Officials praise "valiant efforts" of career employees to ensure smooth process.
The Biden transition team is encountering some pushback from Trump administration officials as it deploys its staff to agencies across government, with political appointees allegedly interfering with the best efforts of career employees.
The roadblocks came to a head at the Defense Department on Friday, where acting Secretary Chris Miller said he and Biden’s agency review team had decided to institute a “mutually-agreed upon holiday pause” on all meetings through Jan. 1. Biden officials quickly shot back that it had not made any such agreement and the Pentagon was just one of many parts of the government in which Trump officials had resisted transition efforts.
“There is no mutually agreed upon holiday break,” said Yohannes Abraham, executive director of Biden’s transition. “In fact, we think it’s important that briefs and other engagements continue in this period as there is no time to spare, and that is particularly true in light of ascertainment delay” by the General Services Administration.
Abraham stressed the importance of an “orderly and cooperative transition,” which he said is occurring in some, but not all, parts of government.
“There have been many agencies and departments that have facilitated the exchange of information and meetings over the past few weeks since ascertainment,” he said. “There have been pockets of recalcitrance and DOD is one of them.” He added Biden’s review teams are “making progress on a shortened timeline,” but have “met isolated resistance in some corners.”
In a statement, Miller pointed to the work Defense has conducted with Biden’s team to date as evidence of the Trump administration’s cooperation. Defense has conducted 139 interviews with 265 officials and responded to 161 requests for information, he said, adding he was committed to a “flawless transition.”
“Most of these interviews were with junior career officials, not senior leaders,” Miller said. “DOD has made available leaders at the highest levels of our organization, many Senate-confirmed as well as other politically appointed leaders, and has ensured senior career officials and experts were also part of the interview process.”
Asked whether Miller had simply invented the mutually agreed upon pause, Jen Psaki, a senior advisor to the Biden team, told reporters to “make your own judgments.”
“It’s not in our interest to provide inaccurate information,” Psaki said, adding the Biden team’s preference was to have a cooperative process. She said career officials “have been cooperative and helpful” and the issues were isolated to political staff.
Abraham declined to elaborate on which other agencies had been problematic in the process. At the Education Department, Secretary Betsy DeVos pleaded with career staffers to “be the resistance” with the incoming administration. President Trump recently reconfigured the order of succession to lead the Office of Personnel Management in what could amount to an effort to leave one of his loyal allies at the agency after Biden takes office.
“It is our hope and expectation across the board, given the challenges the country faces, that all the agency review teams be given access to the info they need to do the job they need to do for the American people,” Abraham said.
While GSA Administrator Emily Murphy dragged her feet in "ascertaining" that Biden was the apparent election winner and thereby delayed the transition process, Biden's team attempted to work around its lack of agency access by relying on the expertise of former government officials. In addition to the formal avenues now made possible by ascertainment, Biden's team is soliciting information from labor groups and the career employees they represent.