2009 Citizen Services

Gail Lovelace

Led the civil service’s efforts to ensure a smooth and peaceful presidential transition from the Bush to the Obama administration.

Gail Lovelace is the Chief Human Capital Officer at the General Services Administration, but she has a big sign over her office doorway that more truly reflects her outgoing personality and approach to the job. It reads, “Chief People Officer.”

Lately, Lovelace has earned another moniker—“The Godmother of the Presidential Transition.”

This title was unofficially bestowed on Lovelace by colleagues who watched her play a pivotal role during and after the 2008 presidential election to help ensure a smooth and orderly transition of power for the federal agencies, the outgoing Bush administration and the incoming Obama White House.

“GSA has an official logistical role as part of the Presidential Transition Act and we work very hard to provide support. But Gail saw an opportunity to do more and help the government agencies coordinate the transition,” said Tim Horne, who worked under Lovelace and headed the GSA’s transition operation for President-elect Obama.

“GSA doesn’t have a statutory requirement to work with the agencies, but it was because of Gail’s passion, leadership and relationships that it got done,” said Horne.

Traditionally, GSA provides a wide range of services and facilities including office space, computers, payroll, contracting and other administrative support to both departing and new White House staffs. But during this past election season, Lovelace stepped into the breach to make sure all of the federal agencies and departments were as prepared as possible for the transfer of power.

Working with Clay Johnson, then deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, Lovelace said she found “so many agencies didn’t have senior people who had been through a transition, making it particularly important to get people together, talk to each other, and establish clear lines of sight.”

Lovelace and her team met with agency leaders to ensure that key political vacancies would be filled by capable career managers and that everyone understood what was needed to maintain a fully functioning government. The GSA team shared best practices, answered questions, removed roadblocks and provided important advice.

Lovelace said that as the first presidential transition since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the country was potentially vulnerable, and the shift in power had to be viewed from an “emergency management perspective.”

“That’s where we started the conversations,” she said. “We made sure that people were prepared to step in and take on roles. We talked to the whole government about doing that.”

Jim Williams, who was acting GSA administrator during the presidential transition, said, “the fact that the transition went so smoothly was in large part because of Gail and the folks on the team.”

“Gail is an incredibly strong leader who worked long hours,” he said. “She personally led the interagency efforts, was the focal point of best practices, communicated consistent answers and did whatever it took to get the job done.”

After the election, Lovelace established links between the Obama transition and the agency coordinators, letting the federal community know exactly what to expect when the president-elect’s review teams would come in to assess the terrain.

Lovelace said as early as 2007, she saw a crucial void in the transition process and was in a position to take the initiative on, even though such a role has never been formally defined.

“I don’t like to sit around and just do what some piece of paper says we should be doing,” said Lovelace. “We often need to do much more to make this a better world.”