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Will Next Monday Be Different Than Today?

January 19, 2017

In political Washington this week: if you weren’t covering confirmation hearings, then there wasn’t much to do or talk about. Friday, of course, will be a different story: inaugurating the President will be an all-consuming political event. Of course, the day is made more momentous because it coincides with the inauguration of a brand-new President, which over the last 25 years has only happened three times.

What exactly happens during such a transfer of power? How can we be so certain that next Monday will be dramatically different from today?

The “Actings” Will Be in Charge, Sort Of. Virtually all Obama political appointees (nearly 4000 in total) will vanish from the federal government, effective at noon on Friday when the new President is sworn in. A very few appointees may be asked to stay temporarily. An even smaller number might be asked to stay on a long-term basis. As a result, virtually every senior leadership post in the federal government will be vacant and simultaneously filled on a temporary basis by career civil servants. Most of the “actings” will have had prior experience running their agency at other times when there were vacancies. For example, Dr. Ostroff, who is expected to be the acting commissioner of FDA, served in that capacity between Dr. Hamburg’s departure and the confirmation of Dr. Califf. Regular agency functions will continue, major policy decisions will be deferred.

“Beachhead Teams” Will Arrive Friday Afternoon or Monday. For every department and major agency, a Trump-appointed beachhead team will arrive … in some cases after the swearing in on Friday or in other cases on the following business day (Monday). They are the successor to the transition teams — they will be larger and generally have individuals with legislative or policy experience in the areas covered by the department or agency. The beachhead teams will be getting in-depth briefings and making assessments of how the agency is performing and start to develop an agenda for changes that they think the agency head, once confirmed, should undertake. Many of those in the beachhead will stay on and serve the new Administration in the agency to which they have been assigned. As the advanced guard, they will be keeping an eye on the acting agency heads, making sure that no decisions are being made that should wait for a new leader to be confirmed. The individuals nominated by the President for Senate-confirmed positions typically stay out of the “day-to-day” business of running the agency to avoid any appearance that they are making decisions prior to being confirmed. At this point, Stat News, citing two transition sources, reported that Jack Kalavritinos, a former HHS political appointee in the George W. Bush years will be on FDA’s beachhead team. Mr. Kalavritinos had worked in the private sector at Covidien, as well.

By Monday, the Trump Agenda Will Be the Federal Government Agenda. In many ways, the most far-reaching change will be the substitution of the Trump agenda for the Obama agenda. It will be evident by Monday and broadcast widely by the media. It would not be surprising if the first batch of new executive orders are released by the end of next week. Also, executive orders from the prior administration are likely to be withdrawn fairly quickly.

This is hardly an exhaustive list of how next Monday will be different from today. Most things won’t be done the first week and instead may take months. But expect a lot of action quickly. What every action will have in common: it is the policy of the Trump Administration and distinctly different than what their predecessors did. Such a change has happened every 8 years since the early 1990s.

Note: The Analysis and Commentary section is written by Steven Grossman, Deputy Executive Director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.

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