Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been nominated to fill the position again.

Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been nominated to fill the position again. Andrew Harnik/AP

Transition Roundup: Hearing Examines Transition Improvements; Biden Announces More Personnel Picks

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

Congressional overseers have started looking into the presidential transition and how to make transfers of power smoother. During a hearing held by the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations on Thursday, Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, gave the following recommendations for Congress to improve future presidential transitions: clarify the criteria for the General Services Administration ascertaining an apparent winner; provide more early support to presidential candidates; better prepare political appointees; decrease the number of political appointees and those that require Senate confirmation; reduce the paperwork burden for appointees; modernize the Plum Book; protect against improper “burrowing in;” block Schedule F; update the Federal Vacancies Reform Act; and help shape the president’s management agenda. 

“While this year’s delay meant the Biden transition team had only 57 days to plan with official aid and access to the federal government, as opposed to the usual 75 days, the process has resumed and by all accounts is proceeding effectively – a testament to both the administration’s transition planning throughout 2020 and the impressive planning by the Biden transition team,” said Stier. “There will, of course, be some speed bumps, and with thousands of officials involved, some will be less than cooperative. However, our understanding is that the overall level of collaboration has been strong.” Here are some of the other recent headlines you might have missed.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Government Operations Subcommittee, said during the hearing that he and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., committee chairwoman, would introduce a bill aimed at last minute or “midnight regulations.” It will require the “Government Accountability Office to create a list of the regulations that the outgoing administration promulgates during this lame duck, which will allow Congress and the incoming administration to review whether they are based on evidence and research or whether they should be considered for amending or elimination,” he stated.  

The average age for President-elect Biden’s Cabinet picks, so far, is 63 compared to 53 in President Obama’s first Cabinet and 60.4 in President Trump’s, Politico calculated. Additionally, Biden will be the oldest president in history to be inaugurated. 

Trump loyalists have been getting involved in transition meetings and preparations, which is usually primarily done by career staff, and this has resulted in “sometimes chilling conversations,” The New York Times reported. For example, “at the Environmental Protection Agency, political appointees have joined virtually every discussion between career staff members and Mr. Biden’s team, monitoring conversations on climate change, scientific research and other topics,” said the report. At the Education Department, “one official said Trump appointees had not crashed briefings but said the written briefing materials given to Mr. Biden’s teams ‘gloss over anything controversial’ and described the briefings as ‘politically influenced.’ ” 

On Thursday, Biden announced the following nominations and appointments: Tom Vilsack, secretary of Agriculture under President Obama, to serve in that role again; Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, to be Housing and Urban Development secretary; Denis McDonough, White House chief-of-staff for Obama, to be Veterans Affairs Secretary; Susan Rice, former national security adviser and United Nations ambassador, to lead the White House Domestic Policy Council; and Katherine Tai, chief trade counsel for the Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee, to be U.S. Trade Representative. 

The incoming Biden administration has extensive plans to clean the White House and “COVID-proof” the new administration. “The team only plans to have a skeleton staff working on campus at first, with most continuing to work remotely from home. They also plan to have the building — which has seen numerous virus outbreaks among staffers and top officials this year— meticulously sanitized,” Politico reported on Wednesday. Also, “a team deployed by the General Services Administration will go over every part of the White House's East and West Wings touched by human hands in the hours after Trump departs.” 

In introducing retired Gen. Lloyd Austin as his nominee for Defense secretary on Wednesday, Biden said that he would not be asking Congress for a waiver “if I did not believe this moment in our history didn’t call for it — and if I didn’t have the faith I do in Lloyd Austin to ask for it.” Austin will need a waiver from Congress since he hasn’t been out of the military for the seven years required for the position and this would only be the third time since Congress passed the National Security Act in 1947 that a waiver has been required.

The Office of Management and Budget posted the fall 2020 unified regulatory agenda, which lists all of the rule changes the Trump administration intended for the upcoming year, Bloomberg reported. Matt Kent, regulatory policy associate at Public Citizen, an advocacy nonprofit, said it is “a mostly useless lame duck unified agenda, but it does reveal a few planned Trump second term actions,” such as “more industry-friendly cost-benefit changes at EPA, (more) SNAP and TANF work requirements” and an Interior Department “censored science rule.” 

Ninety-five organizations, led by the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, sent a letter to Biden on Wednesday asking him to “embrace a bold and vigorous regulatory agenda to protect the public, workers and our environment, and help restore public trust in government.” Specifically, they asked him to: rescind President Trump’s deregulation executive orders, avoid appointments with ties to regulatory businesses, choose an administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs “who is committed to stronger public protections,” and limit the use of cost-benefit analysis that is “industry-friendly.” 

Biden’s transition team is looking for individuals to serve in the Labor Department on an acting basis while it braces for confirmation battles in the Senate. The “team is zeroing in on candidates for acting leaders at the Wage and Hour Division, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Employment and Training Administration, and Office of the Solicitor,” Bloomberg reported on Wednesday. 

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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