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Behind the scenes, Leavitt quietly prepares for White House transition

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Beyond picking top White House aides and settling on a Cabinet by late December, there are also a slew of policy decisions to plan. Obama, for example, signed two executive orders on his first full day in office, calling for a higher level of ethics rules and more transparency with government records.

"You’ve got to tee up what your early moves are going to be," Kumar says. "You have legislative ones in the one hand and executive ones in the other."

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Then there’s the matter of getting rid of the past administration’s orders or those agency regulations that are in the works.

"The first thing is to stop anything in the pipeline," Kumar says. "You’ve got to make sure you’ve got a good hand on that."

Leavitt, who was elected to three terms as Utah’s chief executive, worked on the federal level for five years during the Bush presidency, allowing Leavitt an insider’s view on how it all works. He also earned a reputation as governor for diving deep on policy issues.

"Leavitt is perfect for all this stuff because he brings an understanding of how an administration works, how a White House works and what the demands are of the job and what type of coordination you need," says Kumar.

Not that it’s an easy job.

Forging ahead » Romney officials declined to comment on the transition project, a move likely meant to show the campaign’s focus on first getting elected.

Leavitt, by all accounts, though, is plodding ahead, working out of a C Street office on the House side of Capitol Hill. Recently, according to those familiar with the effort, Leavitt sat down with at least two Republican congressional leaders to discuss a potential legislative agenda for next year.

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Leavitt moved to Washington earlier this summer to take on the effort, renting a home in the area with his wife, Jacalyn.

He has a team of nearly a dozen people working under him, including former World Bank President Robert Zoellick, former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent and Chris Liddell, former chief financial officer at General Motors.

Romney’s campaign can raise private funds to cover the cost of the transition planning and also gets money from the federal General Services Administration, which acts as a go-between for the transition effort.

Earlier this summer, the GSA helped organize a call between Leavitt and Obama’s chief of staff, Jack Lew, according to The New York Times.

Clay Johnson III, who headed Bush’s transition team, says Leavitt seems to be analyzing and applying lessons learned from past changeovers.

"The thing they appear to be focusing on is creating the capability for a President-elect Romney, if there is a President-elect Romney, to be able to put his team on the field significantly faster than previous presidents — twice as fast," says Johnson, who has had occasional conversations with Leavitt about the process.

A classmate of Bush’s in prep school and in college, Johnson said in an interview that the transition game has changed dramatically since he alone was doing the work in 2000.

It’s not premature to do so, Johnson noted, because "bad guys" around the world would like to take advantage of any presidential handover, and Leavitt seems to have grasped how vital it is to be ready.

"If Romney is elected, because of Governor Leavitt’s work, his transition would be, I would suggest, more prepared for getting things done than any previous administration," Johnson said. "If Mitt Romney is not elected president, a new standard will have been set for how viable presidential candidates should prepare."


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