Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday named a panel of senior State Department officials to oversee the transition of the U.S. foreign policy agency to the next administration. Foreign policy aides of either Senator Barak Obama or Senator John McCain are expected to begin occupying offices at the State Department as soon as the day after the November 4 election. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department says Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns will head up a three - member team of senior administrators that will coordinate the handover of the critical agency to the next administration.

Burns is the third-ranking State Department official and a former ambassador to Moscow, and his recent duties have included among other things the lead U.S. role in big-power contacts with Iran on its nuclear program.

The Burns team will oversee preparation of policy papers for incoming officials on key international issues and on the administration of the department, which has a $40-billion annual budget and some 20,000 employees, half of them posted abroad.

The State Department has set aside a large suite of offices on its ground floor for the foreign affairs transition team of the winning candidate, members of which are expected to begin occupying the temporary quarters as soon as the day after the election.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Secretary Rice expects to join Burns and other senior department officials in briefing their incoming counterparts, as nominations for top department jobs are announced.

However, McCormack said Rice and her colleagues have no intention of sharing policy-making duties, which he said will remain with the Bush administration until the moment the next President is inaugurated in January:

"Presidents are elected for four year terms," said Sean McCormack. "They're definite terms and the people who serve them are appointed for definite terms and we know when this term ends, which is January 20th at 12:01 [p.m.] in 2009. Up until that point, you have a commander-in-chief and cabinet secretaries who are officially responsible for a set of duties and a set of cabinet agencies."

The most-senior State Department officials and many U.S. ambassadors abroad are Bush administration political appointees and will submit resignations effective when the new administration takes over.

Some of those officials however are also career diplomats and could be asked to stay on in their current posts or get new assignments.

Broader transition preparations have been underway for several weeks. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is working on security clearances for key members of the McCain and Obama foreign policy and defense transition teams.

President Bush two weeks ago created a Presidential Transition Coordinating Council to, according to a spokeswoman, make the hand-off as seamless as possible.

Neither Presidential candidate has listed possible candidates for Secretary of State. But press speculation has focused on Senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel as potential Obama nominees, while Senator Joseph Lieberman and World Bank President Robert Zoellick have been among those mentioned as possible choices for Senator McCain.