Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a briefing with the coronavirus task force at the White House in November.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a briefing with the coronavirus task force at the White House in November. Susan Walsh/AP

Transition Roundup: Biden Focuses on Non-Senate Confirmed Positions; Fauci to Meet with Biden Team

There's a lot to keep track of. Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.

On Wednesday, the United States topped 14 million novel coronavirus cases and hit a record number of daily deaths, hospitalizations and new infections, according to NBC News. Jeff Zients, co-chair of the Biden transition team who led the National Economic Council under the Obama administration, and Vivek Murthy, a co-chair of the transition’s coronavirus advisory board and former U.S. surgeon general, will head the Biden administration’s pandemic response, Politico reported on Thursday. Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed. 

President-elect Joe Biden announced on Thursday he would appoint Brian Deese to be director of the National Economic Council. Deese previously served as deputy director for the council, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, and senior adviser to President Obama.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on a CBS podcast that he would meet (virtually) with Biden’s agency review team on Thursday for the first time. He also said he wished the transition process started sooner. While he hasn’t spoken directly with Biden yet, he expects to soon. The full podcast will air on Friday. 

Senate Republicans are getting frustrated with Biden over his Cabinet picks. “Tensions are building on various fronts, from complaints that Biden’s team isn’t coordinating with Senate Republicans to warnings that he should expect a slower pace of confirmation after years-long frustrations from GOP senators about the treatment of President Trump’s nominees,” The Hill reported on Wednesday. “Biden will need GOP buy-in to ensure confirmation of his picks unless Democrats sweep the two Georgia runoff elections next month.”

Anticipating tough confirmation battles, the Biden team is focused on filling non-Senate confirmed positions at agencies, Politico reported on Wednesday. “The shift in focus to filling positions that do not require confirmation reflects the urgency with which the Biden team sees its staffing conundrum — especially in the realm of national security, where there’s little room for error,” said the report. “It also signals Biden’s anxiousness to replace Trump appointees and fill long-empty positions as soon as possible so he can enact his agenda.” 

The Pentagon is now providing the Biden transition team with office space, among its other transition duties. “This week the transition task force is focusing on onboarding [agency review team] members, including workspaces, processing of temporary badges, non-disclosure agreements and other administrative matters,” said Pentagon Spokeswoman Sue Gough, in a statement to Voice of America on Wednesday. “The transition task force is also hosting and participating in [review team] requested meetings with DoD leadership across a broad spectrum of organizations, missions and programs.” 

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Biden doesn’t plan to remove FBI Director Christopher Wray from his 10-year term. During a briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked if President Trump plans to remove Wray, as several news reports have indicated. “He’s made no assessments, at least in my presence, about that,” she replied. “If we have any personnel announcements, we'll let you know.” 

Heather Boushey, whom Biden recently tapped to be a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, is facing accusations of mismanagement and verbal abuse by her former employees and colleagues, Politico reported on Tuesday. 

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris announced more members of her senior staff on Thursday. She named her chief-of-staff, national security adviser and domestic policy adviser, all of whom are women. 

The Associated Press outlined the “tough choices” Biden has to make in deciding what to do about construction on the U.S.-Mexico border that has been one of Trump’s main priorities. “Allowing some construction to be finished well into 2021 could leave Biden open to criticism that he violated his pledge,” said the report. “Biden’s administration could exercise termination clauses in the contracts. But the contractors could then seek settlements under federal rules, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It’s not clear how much those settlements might cost because the government has not released the contracts.”

The watchdog group Project on Government Oversight sent a letter to Biden on Wednesday outlining actions he should take to improve government ethics, accountability and transparency. “You ran on a platform of ensuring that government will work for all the people, not just the wealthy or politically well-connected,” said the letter. Now, “you have the opportunity to begin delivering on your promises to the American people on day one.”

In a statement for the Environmental Protection Agency’s 50th anniversary on Wednesday, Biden said that his administration will “reassert the EPA’s place as the world’s premier environmental protection agency that safeguards our planet, protects our lives, and strengthens our economy.” It will be “guided by science and a belief there is nothing beyond our capacity as a nation when we work together as a people.”

Trump is expected to restart business deals with foreign governments and businesses after he leaves office, which is an unprecedented move given the “Trump Organization is sprawling and extensive,” Politico reported

Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at the Trump administration’s last minute or “midnight” regulations and what the incoming Biden administration can do about them. 

Help us understand the situation better. Are you a federal employee, contractor or military member with information, concerns, etc. about how your agency is handling the transition? Email us at newstips@govexec.com.

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