WASHINGTON – President Bush is making an unprecedented request to use up to $1 million budgeted for a possible presidential transition to train top officials who would join his administration if he should win a second term.
The proposal, which will require Congress' approval, is the first time a president has sought to use public transition funds to prepare officials to enter a re-elected administration, White House officials and others say. Critics say the money should come from existing agency budgets, especially as Bush is proposing to curb spending for many programs because of soaring federal deficits.
The White House is defending the request as a way to cope with the spate of departures that usually marks an incumbent's second term. Officials say the money would be used for briefing materials and other training expenses for which agencies have not budgeted.
"We're trying to use a modest amount of resources to make sure they are trained and prepared," said White House budget office spokesman Chad Kolton (search). He said new officials "need to be walked through what the parameters are, where things stand with ongoing projects."
Democrats and experts on presidential transitions say the funds should not be used when a sitting president is re-elected.
"It isn't really forming a government" like newly elected presidents must do, said Charles O. Jones, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist who has studied presidential transitions. "There are all kinds of existing apparatus in the White House, in departments and agencies, for orientation sessions."
Congress routinely provides money every four years for office expenses, briefings and other potential costs incurred by a president-elect and his or her aides waiting to move into the White House and other federal offices.
Bush has proposed $7.7 million for a possible transition. He also asked Congress to amend the Presidential Transition Act (search) to allow using up to $1 million from that amount "for training and briefings for incoming appointees associated with the second term of an incumbent president."
Some 3,000 political appointees are in the executive branch, said Paul Light, a professor of government at New York University who has studied presidential transitions.
"It's unbelievable that the same budget proposal that asks Congress to cut money for education, veterans and port security would propose to set aside $1 million to take care of themselves," said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees White House spending.