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MUST TRANSITIONS TAKE SO LONG?

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By the time Bill Clinton is inaugurated on Jan. 20, 11 weeks will have passed since Election Day.

What a sorry contrast with Great Britain, where a newly elected prime minister takes over the reins of government less than a week after the voters have spoken.The contrast between the two systems is not entirely fair, since the British operate under a parliamentary form of government that includes a feature lacking in America - a shadow cabinet. A shadow cabinet is a group of ministers named by the opposition party and waiting to take over promptly after the ruling party leaves office.

But, instead of waiting until after Election Day, couldn't U.S. presidential nominees start picking their Cabinets immediately after becoming their parties' standard bearers?

When the U.S. Constitution was written two centuries ago, there was good reason for a long transition between administrations. Voting was by paper ballots and tallying the results was time-consuming. To certify Electoral College votes, members of Congress had to travel over poor roads and often in bad weather. So a lengthy transition made sense.

But times and technology have changed. So should the machinery of government involved in the transition period. As one of his first acts in the Oval Office, Clinton should name a blue-ribbon panel to examine ways to get the presidential transition out of the horse-and-buggy age and into the era of computers and jet planes.