Transition Roundup: Confusion Over Pentagon Briefing Status; IG Council Publishes Transition Guide
Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
Government funding expires at midnight and as of late Friday morning, lawmakers had yet to reach an agreement on that or another stimulus package for the economic recession resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic. If there is a shutdown, transition funding won’t be impacted because it “was an anomaly line item in the September [continuing resolution],” Matthew Glassman, senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute, told Government Executive.
However, the transition could be affected in other ways by a shutdown. Don Kettl, the Sid Richardson professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, posed the following questions: Can transition officials “get access to the transition office if security and other bits of access are frozen?” Will they have “anyone to talk to?” Lastly, “some of the transition depends on the willingness of current officials to work with the transition team. This has been much more rocky than one might have expected.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.
President-elect Biden announced members of his climate team on Thursday night. He nominated Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., to be Interior secretary; former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to be Energy secretary; Michael Regan, North Carolina environment head, to be Environmental Protection Agency administrator; and Brenda Mallory, an environmental lawyer, to be chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. He also appointed Gina McCarthy, former EPA administrator, to be the first-ever national climate adviser, and Ali Zaidi, climate expert and long-time adviser, to be the deputy.
Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller ordered the halting of transition briefings, Axios reported on Friday. Miller was installed on November 9 after President Trump fired Secretary Mark Esper. “We had fewer than two dozen remaining meetings on the schedule today and next week,” a senior Defense official told Axios. “Staff working the meetings were overwhelmed by the number of meetings...These same senior leaders needed to do their day jobs and were being consumed by transition activities.” The official added that, “With the holidays we are taking a knee for two weeks. We are still committed to a productive transition.” Trump is meeting with Miller at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, according to the daily White House schedule.
However, Defense officials told Politico that the report is “inaccurate” because one day’s worth of meetings was rescheduled, but "transition activities" are ongoing.
Miller released a statement early afternoon on Friday saying the department "will continue to provide all required support to the agency review team" and that "the mutually-agreed upon holiday pause" begins on Saturday, after which they will "continue with the transition and rescheduled meetings from today." He said that the department hasn't cancelled or declined any interviews with Biden officials.
Yohannes Abraham, Biden-Harris transition executive director, said during a briefing a little later that there was "no mutually agreed upon holiday break" as the transition team has "no time to spare." He said during the transition "there have been pockets of recalcitrance and DOD is one of them," but did not elaborate on other possible agencies.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., incoming White House senior adviser and director of the Office of Public Engagement, tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday. He “was not in close contact, as defined by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], with the president-elect” and Biden “underwent PCR testing for COVID-19 today and COVID-19 was not detected,” said Transition Spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield in a statement. Richmond and Biden were both at a campaign event in Atlanta on Tuesday for the runoff elections next month, but they did not travel together.
The Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency published its transition handbook on Thursday. It “contains critical information about the role of the 75 inspectors general — including their work and processes, how they maintain independence and transparency, and information about recoveries and cost savings — and highlights their importance during presidential administration transitions,” the council said in a statement. “Historically, because of their nonpartisan, independent status, inspectors general have remained in office when presidential administrations change, performing a valuable role during transitions.”
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., introduced legislation on Thursday to “clarify and enhance” the laws regarding preservation of presidential records and transition activities. It would require the president to receive written guidance, made public, from the Archivist before he or she destroys any records, allow the Archivist to inspect the White House’s records management biannually, make sure president-elect receives national security briefings during transitions and require the General Services Administration “to independently ascertain the president-elect within six calendar days of an election and provide sources to any plausible winning candidates to support continuity of government,” among other things.
Biden released a statement on Thursday saying he “instructed my team to learn as much as we can” about the vast hacking campaign that affected numerous federal agencies and thanked the “career public servants who have briefed our team on their findings, and who are working around-the-clock to respond to this attack.” He added that he will make cybersecurity a priority in his administration from day one.
President Trump will leave a vast “imprint” on the judiciary as he has nominated 53 of the 165 judges on regional appeals courts, which are lifetime appointments, The New York Times reported on Thursday. “Most cases on the courts are decided unanimously by three-person panels, and dissent is relatively rare,” said the report. “But as a group, his selections were nearly four times as likely to clash with colleagues appointed by Democratic presidents as those appointed by Republicans. Judges nominated by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush showed the same tendency, but to half the extent.”
The Federal Register posted a notice on Friday about what happens in the event of a government shutdown, which would come in the middle of the transition. It “reminds us this morning that a [government] shutdown could block Trump admin[istration] from getting last minute regulatory rollbacks on the books before Biden takes over,” Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate for the nonprofit group Public Citizen, tweeted. “But looks like [the Federal Register] is going to defy a recent [Government Accountability Office] opinion and publish rollbacks anyway.”
Twenty-one senators sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget on Thursday to protest Trump’s executive order that bans certain types of diversity training for federal agencies, contractors, grant recipients and the military. “By creating vague and illogical requirements, the administration is effectively discouraging entities from offering diversity and inclusion trainings altogether, which we fear is the underlying goal of this misguided effort,” they wrote. This could be one of the executive orders Biden immediately revokes upon coming into office.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., one of the leads on the letter, said in a statement to Government Executive, “As I meet with the incoming administration’s nominees, I make sure to discuss the importance of diversity and inclusion and the value it brings to our policymaking and the people impacted by it.” He added: “It’s clear, through the diverse nominees President-elect Biden has put forth, that the administration will celebrate our nation’s differences and I’m confident they will work to reduce discrimination and disparities in all forms as we collectively work to build a fairer and more inclusive society.”
Today’s GovExec Daily podcast episode looks at the security of the 2020 elections and what more can be done to protect the integrity of the vote.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update: This article has been updated with statements from the Defense Department and the Biden transition team.