GSA Agrees to Brief Congress on Delayed Transition — Next Week

Briefings will occur on November 30 and will be closed to the press.

The General Services Administration on Monday agreed to brief House and Senate lawmakers about the transition process as its delay in ascertaining Joe Biden as the winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election prevents him from receiving daily intelligence briefings, access to agency officials and documents, funding and other formal transition assistance. 

But those briefings won’t take place until next week, GSA said, signaling the agency is in no hurry to give President-elect Joe Biden access to information officials from across the political spectrum say is critical to reducing national security vulnerabilities and ensuring effective distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine during the transition of power from the Trump administration to the Biden administration in January.

Last Thursday, four top House lawmakers and 40 Democratic senators and one independent sent letters to GSA Administrator Emily Murphy expressing concern that she has yet to ascertain Biden as the winner of the presidential election, almost two weeks after news outlets called the race for him. The law requires GSA to ascertain the “apparent” winner before he or she can receive certain critical transition services. In both letters, the lawmakers asked for a briefing by Monday. The House Democrats said they are also considering holding a public hearing.

A GSA spokesperson gave the following statement to Government Executive on Monday:

“GSA sent its response to the respective Committees today. GSA’s Deputy Administrator Allison Brigati will host a 30-minute briefing on Monday, November 30, with the four requesting House Committee Chairs and their Ranking Members. On Monday, November 30, GSA will also host an in-person-only briefing for Senate Appropriations Committee, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee staff. Staff for the House Appropriations and Oversight Committees are invited to attend this in-person briefing as well.” 

Later on Monday, the four top House Democrats pushed back and insisted they receive a briefing on Tuesday. 

“We cannot wait yet another week to obtain basic information about your refusal to make the ascertainment determination,” they wrote to Murphy. “Every additional day that is wasted is a day that the safety, health, and well-being of the American people is imperiled as the incoming Biden-Harris Administration is blocked from fully preparing for the coronavirus pandemic, our nation’s dire economic crisis, and our national security.” The lawmakers asked for a response by 5 p.m. Monday.

Besides Democrats, current and former Republican officials have called on GSA to move forward with the transition and more than 100 national security experts who are Republican or served in Republican administrations have called on President Trump to concede the election. 

Once GSA ascertains Biden as the winner of the presidential election his team will be able to meet with agency personnel, obtain briefing materials and access millions of dollars in funds. 

While the transition team is staffed with well-connected and experienced officials and is doing its best to mitigate the impact from the lack of formal recognition, briefings on intelligence matters and the novel coronavirus pandemic (specifically vaccine distribution) are lacking.  

The deadlines for states to certify their election results vary before the Electoral College meets on December 14. The inauguration is on January 20.

This story has been updated.