One of the less scintillating milestones of the 2012 election was marked by the General Services Administration, when Mitt Romney became the first candidate to take advantage of the Presidential Transition Act of 2010. The Act, spearheaded by former Sen. Ted Kaufman, provides resources for major candidates to start planning for their presidency long before Election Day. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, TIME acquired documents from the GSA that show the scope–and cost–of this unprecedented government-assisted transition.
In 2010, legislators said the main goal of the Act was to bolster national security by ensuring that candidates are prepared to take office, and that they don’t shy away from transition planning for fear that they’ll look presumptuous. To that end, the law stipulates that the federal government will provide certain resources to non-incumbent candidates after their nominating convention. The GSA says final costs are still being tabulated, but the initial estimated cost for Romney’s pre-transition phase is around $8.9 million.
The design, construction and space planning for the Romney team’s office space, which took up multiple floors in the Mary E. Switzer building a couple miles from the White House, cost about $2.5 million. The furniture bill came in around $740,000, and basics like office supplies cost about $30,000. The biggest chunk by far came from communications and related hardware. Items such as IT services, computer equipment and cell phones cost $5.6 million. The GSA noted that some of the resources would be recycled; Dell Latitude Laptops bought for Romney’s 500-strong transition team, for example, will be used by other parts of the federal government. Rent charges were waived by the GSA, as they traditionally are for transition teams during the President-Elect phase.
Romney’s “readiness” team crafted a 16-page “Memorandum of Understanding” with the GSA. It outlines what would and wouldn’t be provided during the “pre-election” phase (and the official “transition” that they didn’t get to). The GSA would pay for Android cell phones for the Romney staff, but they would not pay salaries. The GSA would set up a secure network for the workers, complete with “ptt.gov” email addresses, but they would not pay for utility costs after 5 p.m. Led by former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, Romney’s pre-transition team used a separate 501(c)4-like fund for readiness-related expenses; donations to that fund were capped at $5,000, the same maximum an individual can give to a standard political action committee in a calendar year.
The campaign and GSA officials had started meeting about the transition by early June, before Romney was the official nominee but after his primary victory became clear. The Act stipulates that the GSA must act in a completely non-partisan manner when providing services. And the government administrators got along just fine with Romney’s team, according to Leavitt. On Nov. 7, GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini wrote a final letter to Gov. Romney, saying the GSA had been “honored” to work with his staff–and making it clear that it was time to begin “closeout procedures.”