What is the First Year Project?

The First Year Project is a multi-year, non-partisan effort to:

“You’ve got to give it all you can that first year. Doesn’t matter what kind of majority you come in with. You’ve got just one year when they treat you right, and before they start worrying about themselves. …So, you’ve got one year.” - Lyndon B. Johnson, January 1965

Why the First Year?

Political polarization has made it harder and harder for Washington to work effectively.  A new President’s First Year in particular is high pressure, heated, and intense.  It is a trial and a test—quite literally, a crucible for a new administration.  And beyond our shores, the world takes measure of our new leaders, targeting our vulnerability as we transition.

Yet, First Years also offer opportunities.  Presidents can set priorities and enact great achievements – whether renewing America’s promise at home or making historic breakthroughs on the world stage.  All newly elected Presidents rightly claim some electoral mandate, which they will use to confirm a cabinet and advance a legislative agenda.  Congress – at least at first – cannot appear to obstruct the newly elected leader. 

Still, even when controlled by the new President’s party, Congress works on its own timetable -- not just on legislation, but also when it comes to vetting and confirming senior officials.  And after the President’s first year, Congressional attention turns to mid-term elections that November.  Presidents thus have a short-term window of opportunity.

How the next President and Congress use their First Year will test our political system.

Achieving Impact: Issues, Outreach and Action

Starting in October 2015, every two months the Miller Center will release a set of short memos, on a wide range of policy and institutional topics:

This project begins with world-class research and scholarship from Miller Center, the University of Virginia, leading scholars at top research institutions, as well as senior practitioners. The project will look through both historical and contemporary lenses.

Lessons of history. Memos and essays will look back on the first year in office of presidents throughout history, focusing on successful and unsuccessful efforts to combine policy, politics, and personnel. In particular, scholars will draw from the Miller Center Oral History and Presidential Recordings programs – unique archives charting the presidency over six decades.

Contemporary challenges. Memos also will draw on contemporary research to focus the next President on priorities for her or his First Year.  This research will mobilize the full range of Miller Center scholars, faculty from across the University of Virginia, as well as from partner universities and organizations.  It will engage senior alumni from Democratic and Republican administrations, and will be rigorously non-partisan, emphasizing options available to the next president, regardless of party.

Reaching the next administration. The Miller Center will also bring this work directly to the next president and his or her team. The Miller Center will remain active on each issue through the First Year, until mid-2018.  We will seek the most propitious opportunities to connect with the presidential candidates, the new administration, and other target audiences in each issue area. That includes policymakers, media, private sector leaders, and most importantly, leading officials from contestants of both parties.  The Center is particularly well connected to the alumni networks of previous administrations, thanks largely to our Oral History program (which has worked with every administration since the Gerald Ford White House.) We will deliver The First Year’s canon of work to our audiences in a targeted and impactful way through various channels:

Events. The memos will be released at major events held at the Miller Center and across the country.  Events began in October 2015 and will extend through 2016 and 2017.


Essay Editors and Authors

The First Year Project is comprised of essays written by knowledgeable individuals in the field. Click a name below to read more.

William J. Antholis is Director and CEO at the Miller Center.
Melody Barnes is a cofounder and principal of MBSquared Solutions LLC and vice provost for global student leadership initiatives at New York University.
Jared Bernstein is a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Henry William Brands, Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History, University of Texas at Austin.
Robert F. Bruner is University Professor, Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, and Dean Emeritus at the Darden School of Business, University of Virginia.
W. Bernard Carlson is the Joseph L. Vaughan Professor of Humanities at the University of Virginia.
Cristina Lopez-Gottardi Chao is the Research Director for Public and Policy Programs at UVA’s Miller Center.
Jeffrey A. Engel is the founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University.  
Michèle Flournoy is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).
Gary Freeman is Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin.
William Gale is the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Federal Economic Policy at the Brookings Institution and co-director of the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.
William A. Galston holds the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, where he serves as a senior fellow.
William I. Hitchcock is Professor of History at the University of Virginia.
Elaine C. Kamarck, senior fellow in the Governance Studies program and Director of the Management and Leadership Initiative at Brookings.
Anna O. Law , Herbert Kurz Chair in Constitutional Rights in the department of political science at City University of New York, Brooklyn College.
David Leblang, Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, Faculty Associate at the Miller Center, and Professor of Public Policy at the Batten School for Leadership and Public Policy.
Melvyn P. Leffler is Edward Stettinius Professor of American History at The University of Virginia and a Faculty Associate at UVA’s Miller Center. 
Maya MacGuineas is the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt.
David A. Martin is the Warner-Booker Distinguished Professor of International Law at the University of Virginia.
Guian McKee is an Associate Professor of Public Policy at the University of Virginia.
Sidney M. Milkis, White Burkett Miller Professor of Politics and Faculty Associate at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.
Dambisa Moyo is a global economist and author who analyzes the macroeconomy and international affairs.
Michael Nelson, Fulmer Professor of Political Science at Rhodes College.
Margaret O’Mara is an associate professor at the University of Washington and a historian of the modern United States.
Barbara A. Perry, Senior Fellow and Co-Chair, Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia.
Robert C. Pianta is dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.
Dr. Larry J. Sabato is the founder and director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Marc Selverstone is Chair of the Presidential Recordings Program and University of Virginia Associate Professor.
Ray Scheppach is Miller Center Senior Fellow for Economic Policy and the former executive director of the National Governors Association (NGA).
Richard Schragger is the Perre Bowen Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law.
Stephen Skowronek, Pelatiah Perit Professor of Political and Social Science at Yale University.
Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor in the Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.
Daniel J. Tichenor, Philip H. Knight Professor of Political Science and a program director and senior scholar of the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics at the University of Oregon.
Peter Wehner, Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Philip Zelikow is the White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia and a former member of the Intelligence Advisory Boards for President Bush and President Obama.

Advisory Council

Donald A. Baer, Senior White House Adviser and Chief Speechwriter, President Clinton.
Melody Barnes, domestic policy advisor, President Obama
Steve Burns, senior partner, Quad-C Management
Andrew H. Card, White House chief of staff, President George W. Bush; secretary of transportation, President George H.W. Bush
Mary Kate Cary, former White House speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush
Ann Compton, former news reporter and White House correspondent for ABC News
Terrence D. Daniels, founding partner with Quad-C Management, Inc., a private equity firm based in Charlottesville
Thomas E. Donilon, national security advisor, President Obama
Kenneth M. Duberstein, White House chief of staff, President Reagan
Eric S. Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy, President George W. Bush
Joseph Erdman, owner and president of Albemarle Asset Management Ltd.
Eugene V. Fife, former partner, Goldman Sachs; former chairman, Goldman Sachs International
David R. Gergen, senior political analyst, CNN; former advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton
David Goode, former chairman and CEO, Norfolk Southern Corporation
Patrick Griffin, legislative affairs director, President Clinton
Bobbie Kilberg, deputy assistant to the president for public liaison and deputy assistant to the president and director, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, President George H.W. Bush
Jim Lehrer, former journalist, executive editor, and anchor for the PBS NewsHour
H. Eugene Lockhart, special advisor, General Atlantic, former president and CEO, MasterCard Worldwide
George Marcus, founder of Marcus & Millichap Company
Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty, III, White House chief of staff, President Clinton
Daniel P. Meyer, Legislative Affairs Director, President George W. Bush
Frederic W. Scott, Jr., retired purebred beef cattleman and private venture capitalist
Teresa A. Sullivan, President, University of Virginia
Frances Fragos Townsend, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, President George W. Bush
Peter Wehner, director, Office of Strategic Initiatives, President George W. Bush
Anne R. Worrell, former owner of Bristol Newspapers, Inc., Worrell Investment Company, and the Worrell Land and Cattle Company

Get involved with the First Year Project

The First Year offers presidents unique opportunities to set priorities, build relationships, and impress the world stage. The Miller Center at the University of Virginia has partnered with former administration officials and scholars to offer recommendations, historical case studies, and policy options to the next presidential administration.

There are several ways you can get involved:

About the Miller Center

The Miller Center was founded in 1975 through the philanthropy of Burkett Miller. Troubled by the partisan rancor he saw developing throughout the nation, Miller envisioned a place where leaders, scholars, and the public could come together for discussion grounded in history, to find consensus solutions. The Miller Center is a nonpartisan affiliate of the University of Virginia that specializes in the presidency, public policy, and political history and strives to apply the lessons of history to the nation’s most pressing contemporary governance challenges.

Contact Us

Have questions not answered here or want to get involved? Get in touch with us!

For general inquiries about the project, contact Jeff Chidester, Director of Policy, or Tony Lucadamo, Lead Policy Analyst.

For questions about the website, contact Sheila Blackford, Web Editor, or Howard Witt, Managing Editor.