WASHINGTON -- The delay in pronouncing a winner of the presidential election is cutting into the already limited time for the eventual president-elect to conduct the massive task of launching a new administration, causing problems that experts said could last well into his first year in office.
Both campaigns have put their transition efforts on hold as they battle over Florida's 25 electoral votes. The delay could be more of a problem for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who would be assembling an administration from scratch, but it could also greatly hamper a Gore administration.
The transition -- which is supposed to last 73 days but is certain now to be less than 60 -- is when the winning team moves from campaigning to governing and when the new president reintroduces himself to the country as its new leader.
It is when the exhausted campaign operation catches its breath and begins the massive process of organizing the White House and the rest of the government. There are about 3,000 jobs, 600 of them requiring Senate confirmation, which can take about eight months from selection to background checks to Senate approval.
It is when a new administration translates campaign promises into legislative proposals, focusing on a Jan. 20 deadline to prepare a series of executive orders to quickly set the tone. The new president prepares his inaugural address, and his team scrambles to prepare a budget due in Congress in February.
Most pressing, the winning team must organize more than 300 people who are to move from the campaign to a transition headquarters in Washington to begin this process, interviewing outgoing officials and career bureaucrats and writing position papers. But the transition office doors are locked, and little work is going on.
"People are watching football," said transition expert Charles O. Jones of the University of Wisconsin, "and they don't understand what happens two months from now when you lop off the top echelon of every department and agency and clean out the White House down to the cooks. Transition planning is always important, but it's especially important when you've had a tie election. ... They ought to be thinking about governing, and instead they're going in absolutely the opposite direction, burrowing into their combative campaign mode."
Bush aides say campaign officials are preparing for a transition, although the governor's closest confidantes are throwing their full energy into Florida.
The transition planning for Vice President Al Gore, said to be less extensive than Bush's before Election Day, appears to have ground to a halt as attention is diverted to Florida.
"They are in freeze frame," said a source who had been in recent contact with Gore transition chief Roy Neel.
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