Issue Briefs

President Trump and the GSA have cleared the way for transition activities to formally get underway. Following are sections of a recent Congressional Research Service report on presidential transitions describing the types of support that federal agencies are to provide under the Presidential Transition Act – PTA, now that the GSA has made a formal determination – or “ascertainment” – to begin the process.


The PTA authorizes the [GSA] Administrator to fund, during the transition, orientation activities, primarily for “individuals the President-elect or eligible candidate … for President intends to nominate as department heads or appoint to key positions in the Executive Office of the President or executive agencies.” The purpose of these activities is to acquaint the incoming leadership “with the types of problems and challenges that most typically confront new political appointees when they make the transition from campaign and other prior activities to assuming the responsibility for governance.” Personnel who may assist in the transition process include individuals who “(I) held similar leadership roles in prior administrations; (II) are department or agency experts from the Office of Management and Budget or an Office of Inspector General of a department or agency; or (III) are relevant staff from the” Government Accountability Office. The orientation activities specified in the statute include “training or orientation in records management … including training on the separation of Presidential records and personal records,” as well as “training or orientation in human resources management and performance-based management.”

The PTA directs the Administrator to work with the Archivist of the United States to create, in support of the orientation activities, a transition directory compiling “Federal publications and materials with supplementary materials developed by the Administrator.” The directory is to include “information on the officers, organization, and statutory and administrative authorities, functions, duties, responsibilities, and mission of each department and agency.

Post-election Support

Once the President-elect and Vice President-elect have been ascertained by the Administrator, the PTA authorizes the Administrator to provide them with certain facilities, funds, and services to prepare for future duties, including those that were available to them as candidates and additional resources:

·      suitable office space appropriately equipped with furniture, furnishings, office machines and equipment, and office supplies;

·      payment of the compensation of members of office staffs designated by the President-elect or Vice President-elect;

·      payment of expenses for the procurement of services of experts or consultants or organizations thereof for the President-elect or Vice President-elect;

·      payment of travel expenses and subsistence allowances, including rental of government or hired motor vehicles;

·      government aircraft for transition purposes on a reimbursable basis, when requested by [one of the incoming officers or a designee] and approved by the President;

·      aircraft chartered for transition purposes, when requested by [one of the incoming officers or a designee];

·      communications services; and

·      payment of expenses for printing and binding.

In addition, the PTA authorizes funding for the use of the U.S. Postal Service by the President-elect and Vice President-elect “in connection with [their] preparations for the assumption of official duties.”

As discussed in greater detail above (“Pre-election Direct Transition Support”), the PTA also authorizes the Administrator to fund incoming leadership orientation activities for the intended nominees of the President-elect during the transition. The purpose of these activities is to acquaint members of the new Administration with governance issues they are likely to face as they take office. The statute specifies the personnel who may assist in the transition process, and it also identifies orientation activities that may be included.

The statute also provides that these orientation activities “shall include the preparation of a detailed classified, compartmented summary … of specific operational threats to national security; major military or covert operations; and pending decisions on possible uses of military force.” This summary is to be conveyed to the President-elect as soon as possible after the general election.

The PTA provides for consultation between the Administrator and any President-elect, Vice President-elect, or eligible candidate … to develop a systems architecture plan for the computer and communications systems of the candidate to coordinate a transition to Federal systems if the candidate is elected including … human resource management system software compatible with that of the incumbent and likely to be used by the President-elect and Vice President-elect.

Funding Authorization

Since the PTA was passed in 1964, the funding authorized for its implementation has grown. As originally enacted, the PTA authorized funding not to exceed $900,000 for any one transition “for carrying out the purposes” of the act. In 1976, this provision was amended to authorize “not more than $2,000,000 … for the purposes of providing services and facilities to the President-elect and Vice President-elect” and “not more than $1,000,000 … for the purposes of providing services and facilities to the former President and former Vice President.” In 1988, this provision was amended once again and the authorized amounts were increased to $3.5 million and $1.5 million, respectively. The 1988 amendments also directed that the “amounts authorized to be appropriated [by these provisions] be increased by an inflation adjusted amount, based on increases in the cost of transition services and expenses which have occurred in the years following the most recent Presidential transition.”

Section 4 of the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010 authorizes “such sums as may be necessary to carry out the provisions” of that act.

A general provision of the PTA authorizes the Administrator to spend PTA-authorized funds for the provision of most of the specified “services and facilities … in connection with … obligations incurred by the President-elect or Vice-President-elect” between the day following the general election and 180 days after the inauguration. As discussed above, a number of exceptions to this general provision authorize expenditures for specified pre-election transition-related services and facilities for “eligible candidates.”

The President-elect, Vice President-elect, or eligible candidate may designate an assistant to act on his or her behalf in connection with the support provided by the Administrator under the PTA. Up to 10% of the expenditures under the PTA may be made upon certification by the President-elect, Vice President-elect, or the designated assistant “that such expenditures are classified and are essential to the national security” and are consistent with PTA provisions.

Funding for 2020-2021

The President’s FY2020 budget proposal for GSA included a request for $9.62 million in funding for activities authorized by the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010 in anticipation of the 2020-2021 presidential transition. This request was endorsed by Congress and included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, which was enacted on December 20, 2019.

The President’s FY2021 budget proposal for GSA included a request for $9.9 million for PTA-related activities. This request was endorsed by Congress and included in the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act. Transition-related funds also were appropriated to the White House Office of Administration ($8 million) and the National Archives and Records Administration ($18 million) for presidential transition-related activities.

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