GSA on Monday said it would free up resources for a presidential transition after a lengthy delay and as battleground states began certifying election results.
A formal declaration by GSA administrator Emily Murphy, an “ascertainment” that Joe Biden won 270 or more electoral votes, has been needed to kick off a cascade of events allowing a Biden administration to get up to speed with a slate of agency business and prepare to take the reins of the federal government on January 20.
“As you know, the GSA Administrator does not pick or certify the winner of a presidential election. Instead, the GSA Administrator’s role under the [Presidential Transition] Act is extremely narrow: to make resources and services available in connection with a presidential transition. As stated, because of recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results, I have determined that you may access the post-election resources and services described in Section 3 of the Act upon request,” wrote the GSA administrator to president-elect Biden.
Transition activities include gaining access to officials in over 60 agencies throughout the sprawling federal government, classified briefings, and $6.3 million for office space in the Department of Commerce and other needs. Murphy also noted that another “$1,000,000 is authorized, pursuant to Public Law 116-159, to provide appointee orientation sessions and a transition directory,” adding, “I remind you that Section 6 of the Act imposes reporting requirements on you as a condition for receiving services and funds from GSA.”
The only precedent for GSA delaying the start the formal transition process was in 2000, a very different situation since that race came down to only one state, Florida, and a disputed count there.
OMB in September issued a memo laying out requirements for agencies to prepare for the end of the current Presidential term that outlines some of the large scale and coordinated tasks that need to take place. Memo M-20-33 ordered agencies to prepare succession plans for senior non-career positions in the agency and to finalize briefing materials including an overview of the organization; the top five to ten most pressing operational items requiring immediate attention; a budget overview; the current leadership team; and congressional considerations.
During a change in administrations, campaign transition staff “will review briefing materials and meet with internal agency transition teams to develop a better understanding of each agency and its current state of affairs. Not all agencies should expect to receive agency review teams, and we will work with the President-elect’s transition team to identify the respective agency review list,” OMB said.
Those meetings likely can now take place, although certain other transition activities have been undertaken by the Biden team independently, a lot of it online. The memo added that agency review teams should ensure resources are in place to provide agency review teams with logistical and administrative support, including building access and work spaces.”
According to the Partnership for Public Service Center for Presidential Transition, the Presidential Transition Act “requires the outgoing administration to provide the president-elect with a detailed classified summary of threats to national security, major military or covert operations, and more as soon as possible after the election.”
President Trump maintains strong support with his base and Republican lawmakers vowing to challenge election results in key states – having received over 70 million votes in 2020 in a tight race – yet among those supporters have been calls to at least share intelligence briefings ahead of a transition should election related lawsuits fall short, as did key efforts in Pennsylvania and Michigan.
President Trump on Monday said efforts to overturn the election results would continue but that he has instructed aids to cooperate with “initial protocols” for transition activities as those efforts continue.
The transition act also requires “the outgoing administration to host interagency emergency preparedness and response exercises,” such as a global pandemic scenario gamed out as President Trump’s team prepared to take over from Obama, said PPS.
It noted that other work to be done includes senior career executives throughout the government preparing succession plans for senior non-career positions to maintain readiness, and more practical steps such as on-boarding new appointees (fingerprinting, badging, orientation).