Patrick Semansky/AP

White House Belatedly Issues Request for Resignation Letters From All Appointees

Routine request will help "clear the decks" for President-elect Biden.

The Trump administration on Thursday instructed all political appointees to submit their resignation letters by Jan. 20, ensuring they exit federal agencies upon President-elect Biden’s swearing in. 

The memorandum, first reported by Politico, comes far later than the equivalent one by President Obama, who issued a similar memo in November 2016 and asked to have the letters in hand by Dec. 7 that year. President Trump has refused to concede the election, however, delaying a number of transition steps. 

Outgoing presidents traditionally request all appointees, who serve at the pleasure of the president, submit resignations effective immediately upon the new president’s swearing in to office. That step, as explained in the Partnership for Public Service’s Presidential Transition Guide, helps “to clear the decks for the new administration.” The extra runway Obama and his recent predecessors required for the letters gave their successors more time to identify individuals to hold over until replacements could be installed. 

“Certain positions have a more complicated selection process that takes longer than normal to fill, so a temporary or permanent holdover should be seriously considered,” the Partnership said in its guide

The Thursday memo was issued by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Chuck Liddell and asked for resignation letters by noon on Jan. 20. 

“As we prepare for a transition of power, we must take appropriate measures to ensure this is done in an orderly manner,” Liddell wrote, according to Politico. He asked agency heads to share it with all presidential appointees in their organizations. 

Typically, appointees with termed roles—such as inspectors general and individuals serving on part-time boards—and U.S. attorneys stay on into a new administration. Trump has overseen an atypical transition, however, culminating in his incitement Wednesday of a violent mob breaching the U.S. Capitol Building as lawmakers were seeking to certify Biden’s victory. An executive order Trump issued last year has some observers concerned that a cadre of political appointees will seek to burrow into their agencies though the new Schedule F appointment category.