Andrew Harnik/AP

Biden Blasts OMB and Defense Officials for Obstructing Transition

“It’s nothing short of irresponsible,” the president-elect said on Monday.

President-elect Joe Biden said Monday that Trump administration officials at the Pentagon and the White House Office of Management and Budget are withholding critical national security information from his transition teams as they work to ensure a smooth handover of power following the January 20th inauguration. 

“Right now, as our nation is in a period of transition, we need to make sure that nothing is lost in the handoff between administrations,” Biden said. “My team needs a clear picture of our force posture around the world and of our operations to deter our enemies.”

Citing the need for full visibility into the budget planning underway at the Pentagon and other agencies, Biden said “we have encountered roadblocks from the political leadership” at the Defense Department and OMB. “Right now, we just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas.” 

“It’s nothing short of irresponsible,” he said.

Many agencies have sustained “enormous damage” under the Trump administration, Biden said: “They’ve been  hollowed out—in personnel, in capacity, in morale. In policy processes that have atrophied or been sidelined. In the disrepair of our alliances. In our absence from key institutions that matter to the welfare of the American people. In a general disengagement from the world.”

Transition teams have briefed Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris about needed investment at a number of agencies, including the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, to rebuild alliances necessary to counter threats to the nation, Biden said. 

He said the incoming administration is still learning about the extent of the SolarWinds hack and the vulnerabilities exposed as a result.  

“We need to close the gap between where our capabilities are now and where they need to be to better deter, detect, disrupt, and respond to these sorts of intrusions in the future,” he said.

Restoring Capacity at DHS, FEMA

He also highlighted challenges at the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency relative to their roles supporting pandemic response and on the front lines of  the “humanitarian disaster that the Trump Administration has systematically created on our southern border.” 

He promised to boost the capacity of Homeland Security to process asylum seekers, but said it would take time to solve, noting that “it’s not as simple as throwing a switch to turn everything back on — especially amid a pandemic.”

He also said a critical issue will be managing  the safe, equitable, and efficient distribution of vaccines to as many Americans as possible as quickly as possible.

“We want to make sure that our administration is poised to make full use of FEMA’s domestic reach and capacity in managing our COVID response,” Biden said.

Notably for federal employees, Biden ended the briefing with a shoutout to career professionals working across government. 

“They never stop doing their jobs and continue to serve our country day in and day out to keep their fellow Americans safe, just as they have always done. These agencies are filled with patriots who have earned our respect, and who should never be treated as a political football,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to the honor of working with them again, to asking for their advice and inputs to help shape the best possible policies for all Americans.”