Evan Vucci / AP

Transition Roundup: Still No Plum Book; Trump Ramps Up Lame Duck Actions

Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.

President Trump has less than a month left in office, yet he’s creating potentially massive roadblocks for pandemic relief and government funding. On Tuesday night he released a video in which he signaled he would not sign the fiscal 2021 spending package and coronavirus relief deal that Congress passed on Monday, which increased the risk of a government shutdown. Also, Wednesday is the deadline for Trump to veto the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which he said he will do. The House and Senate both passed it with veto-proof majorities, but there could be some “procedural hurdles,” The Hill noted. Here are some other recent headlines you might have missed. 

President-elect Biden announced on Tuesday that he selected Miguel Cardona, Connecticut education commissioner and former public school teacher, to be his nominee for Education secretary. He also added more members to the White House Counsel’s office on Wednesday. 

Trump issued 20 pardons and commutations on Tuesday night, which included three former congressmen, two men who pleaded guilty during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and four former government contractors convicted in association with killing Iraqi civilians in 2007. There could be more to come before Trump leaves office, according to The New York Times. 

Trump named more members to federal boards and commissions on Tuesday. This includes many allies and administration officials, such as Hope Hicks, White House adviser; Richard Grenell, former acting director of the national intelligence; Pam Bondi, former Florida attorney general; Stephanie Grisham, former White House press secretary; Russell Vought, Office of Management and Budget director; Paolo Zampolli, head of a modeling agency in the 1990s who claims he introduced Trump and Melania; and Ezra Cohen Watnick, acting undersecretary of Defense for intelligence and security.

The president issued a memo on Tuesday saying the special counsel investigating the FBI’s probe of the 2016 election can now use classified information. Attorney General William Barr, whose resignation is effective on Wednesday, said earlier this month he appointed U.S. attorney John Durham as the special counsel in October. 

Despite the fact that Trump has yet to concede the election, White House staff received an email from the executive office on Tuesday night with instructions about departing, CBS News reported. Some staff will start leaving on January 4. But then they received an email from White House management office on Wednesday morning saying, “Please disregard the below message. Updated information will be shared in the coming days,” according to The Washington Post.

Biden said on Tuesday the “Trump administration failed to prioritize cyber security,” in reference to the massive Solar Winds cyber hack that affected many federal agencies. “In the meantime, the president’s team needs to cooperate fully to share information as it becomes available on both the impact and our response to ensure a smooth transition and to protect the American people as administrations change,” Biden said. 

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, plans to retire after she helps the Biden administration as needed, The Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

Political officials at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative are slow-walking the transition by refusing to schedule meetings, Politico reported on Tuesday. “If meetings are scheduled in the future, USTR has made clear that a Trump political appointee will have to be present with the career staffers,” according to the report. “The struggle comes as USTR Robert Lighthizer has refused to publicly acknowledge Biden’s win while he seeks to wrap up a number of policy initiatives, like an inquiry into Vietnam’s currency practices that could bring new tariffs before he leaves office Jan. 20.”

The Office of Personnel Management has yet to issue an updated version of the Plum Book, which outlines the 9,000 positions across government, such as Senate-confirmed, Schedule C and Senior Executive Service jobs, and is a resource for transition teams. “In 2016, the book was published on Dec. 1. In 2008, it was available on Nov. 12,” Politico noted on Tuesday. An OPM spokesperson told Politico that the book was sent to the Government Printing Office on November 13. “A senior Democratic committee aide said the book will be published soon, as long as the printers don’t have problems,” said the report. “The senior aide also pushed back against OPM and said the office’s ‘initial transmission of the data for the Plum book created numerous questions for GPO, which they were slow to answer.’” 

Denis McDonough outlined in an article in Military Times on Tuesday how he would lead the Veterans Affairs Department if confirmed as secretary. “Supporting veterans runs in my family” and “I will also bring...a deep knowledge of government. As a former White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama, I had visibility into every single federal agency and department,” he wrote. “I saw firsthand that when our government is at its best, it can serve its citizens well and help Americans solve their problems. But too often it doesn’t, and when that happens, it breeds distrust and resentment.” 

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., sent a letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Tuesday decrying their “negligent failure” to protect workers during the ongoing pandemic. They copied Chris Lu, team lead for the Labor Department on the transition team, on the letter. 

The Intelligence Authorization Act, which was included in the fiscal 2021 omnibus package, does not include whistleblower reforms to which the House and Senate reportedly agreed over the summer. “It’s disappointing that this Congress couldn’t pass these bipartisan reforms. The Biden administration will have to assure intelligence whistleblowers that they will be both heard and protected, and that job’s made much harder when Congress hasn’t corrected these systemic flaws,” Irvin McCullough, national security analyst at the nonprofit Government Accountability Project, told Government Executive on Tuesday. “Fixing the intelligence whistleblowing system should be a top priority. Otherwise, systemic flaws fester, and whistleblowers may prefer to avoid the protected system entirely either by staying silent or leaking to the press.”

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.