President-elect Biden speaks Monday at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del.

President-elect Biden speaks Monday at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Biden Transition Team Promises Diversity and Expertise in Federal Leadership

President-elect lays out his first priorities, including some changes to federal agency operations.

President-elect Biden and his transition team unveiled shortly after being declared victors the incoming administration's key priorities, including COVID-19 response, a dependence on federal experts and the need for a diverse civil service. 

As he did during his campaign, Biden said he will listen to and empower career experts throughout the federal government. The initial priorities for his administration will focus on the pandemic, climate change, racial equity and economic recovery, according to the transition’s newly launched website

Embedded within those pillars are ways to reform federal government operations, with the Biden team noting it will launch a historic overhaul of the federal procurement system to advance racial equity. Biden also promised to “promote diversity and accountability in leadership across key positions in all federal agencies.” In his acceptance speech Saturday night, the president-elect said he would form an administration that looks like America. 

While several outlets have reported Biden is planning a flurry of immediate executive orders to unwind some of Trump’s actions, including some with direct impacts on the federal workforce, his team did not lay out those specific actions. It did say it would ensure equity in management and training, perhaps an allusion to Trump’s order reining in diversity and inclusion efforts across government. The transition organization did not respond to a request for comment.  

Biden’s team said it would listen to science and “ensure public health decisions are informed by public health professionals” when issuing policy related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. As promised during the campaign, the Biden administration plans to use the resources of the federal government to recruit 100,000 individuals through a newly established U.S. Public Health Jobs Corps to assist states with contact tracing efforts. Amid news of a potential breakthrough at Pfizer and BioNTech with vaccine development, Biden said on Monday he would allow the Food and Drug Administration to follow its own processes free of political interference. 

“The FDA will run a process of rigorous reviews and approval,” Biden said. “The process must also be grounded in science and fully transparent so the American people can have every confidence that any approved vaccine will be safe and effective.” 

The transition team added it would “put scientists in charge” for all major vaccine decisions and authorize career employees to create a written, public report on a vaccine’s safety and efficacy. Biden tapped Vivek Murthy, who served as surgeon general under Obama, to co-chair his Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board with David Kessler and Marcella Nunez-Smith. In what is perhaps a welcome sign for would-be whistleblowers, Rick Bright—the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority who was demoted by the Trump administration after he spoke out about political meddling in his agency’s scientific research—has joined the board as an adviser.  

Tom Devine, legal director at the whistleblower advocacy group Government Accountability Project, said Bright’s appointment was an “exciting move both in tangible and symbolic terms.” 

“For federal workers, it means whistleblowers are on the team,” Devine said. “Instead of being excised, they’re welcomed.”  

Biden’s transition leaders promised to make it easier for unions to organize and collectively bargain, specifically calling for stronger negotiating rights for federal government workers. That priority could perhaps spell the end for President Trump’s executive orders and directives that stripped federal employee unions of some of their most critical powers. 

While Biden’s transition team is moving forward with policy and advisory board rollouts, its ability to actually deploy to federal agencies and receive its next tranche of federal funds is currently in limbo as the General Services Administration has declined to declare the former vice president the winner of the presidential election.