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Professor Aids White House In Transition

A UNC political science professor is taking on the task of smoothing the White House's administrative transition for the new president of the United States - whomever that might be.

Terry Sullivan is the associate director and a founder of White House 2001, a project designed to aid the new president in his transition into the White House and to help the new administrators learn their jobs before they start them.

Between the election and the inauguration, the president-elect must fill 14 Cabinet posts, choose the White House staff, write an inauguration speech and set a $1.8 trillion federal budget. Sullivan said the responsibility of White House 2001 is to alleviate some of the resulting worries.

"There have been attempts in the past by other scholarly organizations; all have been uniformly unsuccessful," Sullivan said. "Most of the other programs have delivered the information (current White House administrators) have (to new administrators) the day after the election, which is really too late. Trying to learn your job while on the job at the White House is like trying to sip water from a fire hose.

Sullivan said the goal is to help new appointees and staff understand what will be expected of them and what challenges they might face so they can hit the ground running in January - instead of stalling government while they learn the ropes, as have many administrations before them.

Sullivan said the election controversy in Florida has caused problems in his organization because it is harder to train administrators whose transition time has been shortened. "We've been working with both transition teams," he said. "It does make a difference; a truncated transition (period) is not a good thing."

White House 2001, which is an extension of the Presidency Research Group, an arm of the American Political Science Association, also helps screen candidates for the various positions in the executive branch. Sullivan said a big part of the work was getting the new employees the official security clearance they need to access government information.

Sullivan, who teaches graduate courses about Congress and the presidency and undergraduate courses on the American government at UNC, began part-time work on this project in 1997 and has devoted all of his time to it since fall 1999.

Sullivan said he wants to improve the system of presidential transition. "We thought it was important to better the public condition, and there is no better public condition than to make sure the White House gets off to a good start."

White House 2001 Director Martha Kumar, a political science professor at Towson University in Maryland, praised Sullivan's efforts. "(His) work is crucial for the project because he's been important in managing what's gone on," Kumar said. "Sullivan was very much a part of the development of the project."

Kumar said it is important to set down a list of responsibilities for the new administration. "When people come into the White House, there's no (guideline) paper there," Kumar said. "We need to help those new people out. Most offices are pretty bare, and the idea here will let people know how their offices have worked over time and help them make that transition."

White House 2001 also solicits the help of political science professors from universities all over the nation, which Sullivan said adds legitimacy to the project.

"I think it's an obligation of faculty at a public university to get involved," he said. "One of the reasons I and the director got involved was because we felt it was important for academics to get involved with their expertise."

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