Lobbying the New President: Interests in Transition. By Heath Brown. New York: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2012. 206 pp.
Managing the transition of power from one president to the next is a major undertaking, and not always a smooth one. Heath Brown turns the spotlight on this neglected phase of activity, considering the role and impact of interest groups as a president-elect tries to shape his coming administration.
The major questions underpinning the book concern how groups operate during the transition itself, and whether their actions in this phase yield advantages in the longer-term, particularly in terms of achieving policy aims during the incoming president's administration.
These are not questions for which data is easily found, as transitions since 1960, Brown's focus here, have been relatively few in number (only 10), and have been largely shrouded in secrecy. The decision of Barack Obama to run a more open transition in 2008--following a campaign that stressed transparency and attacked "special interests"--presented an important opportunity for scholarship of which Brown has taken advantage. He supplements information released by the transition itself (primarily, letters from interest groups recommending various policy initiatives) with a new survey of interest groups, interviews with group leaders and transition personnel, other data on lobbying expenditures, and broader historical research, thus offering numerous points of entry to the topic.
Given the emphasis on this recent transition, however, the book has more to say about what interest groups do in this phase, rather than what they get out of it. But, in this respect, it provides a fascinating window into a world of which many of us know little--a world of specialized teams screening potential nominees, and fanning out across the federal bureaucracy to get a head start on what needs to be done.
Chapter 3, in particular, provides a helpful overview of transitions since 1960, emphasizing the important roles played by think tanks, such as the Brookings Institution in 1960, the Heritage Foundation in 1980, and the Center for American Progress in 2008. Indeed, Brown points to Brookings as the impetus behind an increasing institutionalization of the transition process--one originally intended to elevate expertise over partisanship.
This formalization underpins Brown's main argument: that there are now established "transition structures which centrally control the access of...