Delay means all the president's men may not be installed for months

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The Independent US

The next president of America may be only partly prepared to govern when he assumes office in January, because so much of the traditional transition period, when appointments are filled and policy initiatives drafted, will have been lost tothe post-election deadlock in Florida.

The next president of America may be only partly prepared to govern when he assumes office in January, because so much of the traditional transition period, when appointments are filled and policy initiatives drafted, will have been lost tothe post-election deadlock in Florida.

Washington ought to be humming with changeover activity today, but no one is preparing for anything. Offices that were set aside for thewinner on 7 November to begin his transition remain empty. A budget of $5m (£3.5m) is stilluntouched.

It is for good reason that the US Constitution provides 73 days to hand over power: there is so much to do. Altogether about 6,000 government positions are waiting to be filled. Other urgent business includes transforming campaign promises into actual policy, preparing budgets for consideration by Congress and writing an inauguration speech. And the confrontational candidate tries to transform himself into a dignified head of state.

Appointments that need to be made range from the head chef in the White House to the next secretary of state. Indeed, the top layer of every government department has to be put in place by the incoming chief executive. Most of those who are appointed then face many bureaucratic hurdles, including FBI checks and Senate confirmation.

"The president-elect usually doesn't have a day to lose and we have already lost two weeks," said Charles Jones, a politics scholar at the University of Wisconsin. "A failing transition really makes it difficult to get your government or your presidency off the ground."

The problems would be greatest for George W Bush, who would be building his administration from scratch. In the first hours after the election, he let it be known that he was putting his transition plans in motion. That tack was swiftly abandoned, however, when Democrats accused Republicans of jumping the gun. Now neither man dares to embark on any kind of transition preparations, at least not in public, for fear that they would be branded as power-grasping and arrogant.

The curtailed transition period might affect Al Gore slightly less, since he would inherit the Clinton-appointed government. Having campaigned as his own man, however, he would still have to replace a big portion of the political appointees.

Both men would face unusual difficulties in filling the most senior government positions for an additional reason: whoever wins the presidency can expect particularly rough treatment from the other side in the Senate, where all those appointments must be confirmed.

Paul Light, vice-president of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution, predicted: "With these delays we would not expect a fully complete administration until January or February 2002."

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