November 9, 2020
A Trump administration appointee—General Services Administrator Emily Murphy—is refusing to sign a letter enabling President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team to formally begin its work this week, in another sign the incumbent president has not acknowledged Biden’s victory and could disrupt the transfer of power, The Washington Post reports.
Te administrator of the General Services Administration, the low-profile agency in charge of federal buildings, has a little-known role when a new president is elected: to sign paperwork—officially turning over millions of dollars, as well as give access to government officials, office space in agencies and equipment authorized for the taxpayer-funded transition teams of the winner.
But by Sunday evening, November 8—almost 36 hours after media outlets projected Biden as the winner—GSA Administrator Emily Murphy had written no such letter. And the Trump administration, in keeping with the president’s failure to concede the election, has no immediate plans to sign one.
Indeed, according to the Post, this standoff could lead to the first transition delay in modern history—except in 2000, when the Supreme Court decided a recount dispute between Al Gore and George W. Bush in December.
“An ascertainment has not yet been made,” Pamela Pennington, a spokesperson for GSA, said in an email to The Washington Post, “and its Administrator will continue to abide by, and fulfill, all requirements under the law.”
The GSA statement left experts on federal transitions to wonder when the White House expects the handoff from one administration to the next to begin — when the president has exhausted his legal avenues to fight the results, or the formal vote of the Electoral College on December 14? There are 74 days, as of Sunday, until the Biden inauguration on January 20.
“No agency head is going to get out in front of the president on transition issues right now,” said one senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. The official predicted that agency heads will be told not to talk to the Biden team.
“The transition process is fundamental to safely making sure the next team is ready to go on Day One,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, which has set up a presidential transition center and shares advice with the Biden and Trump teams. “It’s critical that you have access to the agencies before you put your people in place.”
Trump has been resistant to participating in a transition—fearing a bad omen—but has allowed top aides to participate as long as the efforts do not become public, administration officials said. He is unlikely to concede he has lost or participate in traditional activities, the officials said.
Research contact: @washingtonpost