Top House Democrats Call on Agencies to Preserve Records for Transition
They sent letters to over 50 agencies about their statutory duties, despite the president contesting the election.
Although the General Services Administration has yet to give the official go-ahead for the presidential transition, top House Democrats called on federal agencies on Tuesday to preserve their records, as required by law, to ensure a smooth transfer of power.
Three days after President-elect Joe Biden was deemed the winner, the chairs of 21 House committees sent letters to over 50 federal agencies, collectively, regarding this critical aspect of the transition. GSA has yet to ascertain an election winner––despite many calls to do so ––which precludes the Biden team from sending teams into the agencies, obtaining briefing books prepared mainly by career civil servants and accessing $6.3 million of the $9.9 million in designated transition funds. Nevertheless, the lawmakers want to ensure the record collection process is underway.
“It is imperative that you remind all employees and officials within your organization of their legal responsibility to take appropriate measures to collect, retain and preserve all documents, communications and other records in accordance with federal law, including the Federal Records Act and related regulations,” they wrote. “This includes electronic messages involving official business that are sent using both official and personal accounts or devices, including records created using text messages, phone-based message applications, or encryption software.”
They also asked the agencies to save “all information that relates to all investigations conducted during the 116th Congress, including all oversight requests or demands from Congress,” which includes “all documents, communications, and other information, including electronic information and metadata, that is or may be potentially responsive to a congressional inquiry, request, investigation, or subpoena that was initiated, continued, or otherwise undertaken during the 116th Congress.”
In addition to the agencies, the House committee chairs wrote to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone to remind him of the White House’s same responsibilities.
In August, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington sent a letter to the National Archives and Records Administration, which oversees the records preservation, with concerns about a potential presidential transition. “From reports of Trump ripping up documents once he is done with them to meetings with foreign leaders made secret at Trump’s request, there is reason to believe that Trump may ignore the law and destroy government records on a massive scale to prevent the public and congressional overseers from learning about his misconduct and abuses,” said CREW. “If NARA discovers the Trump administration is failing to adequately and accurately preserve its records, CREW urged NARA to immediately raise the alarm and notify Congress.”
Archivist of the United States David Ferriero stated in a response in September, shared with Government Executive, that he will comply with all legal requirements and is “fully engaged” in the transition process.
In the days since the election, various news outlets have reported that the Defense Department, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Veterans Affairs Department and U.S. Agency for International Development reiterated they won’t engage with the Biden team until GSA makes the ascertainment of an election winner. Also Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday, "There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration." However, several hours later, he noted in an interview with Washington Watch that that would occur for a Biden administration as well.
President Trump and his legal team are continuing to contest the results of the election. Trump tweeted “we will win!” and “ballot counting abuse” on Tuesday, despite the lack of evidence showing widespread voter fraud.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday afternoon, Biden said,“I don’t see a need for legal action” on the ascertainment, as his team is moving along on the transition process, most recently exemplified by announcing agency review teams.
Update: This article has been updated to include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's remarks during an interview on Tuesday night.
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