Patrick Semansky/AP

Biden Administration Gives Agencies More Time to Appoint Officials to Transition-Designated Positions

Agencies said they needed more time to appoint individuals to help segue from Trump's policies to Biden's.

After agencies indicated they need more time for transition-specific activities, the Biden administration is giving them more time for a special onboarding process for officials to work on those issues. 

In the waning days of the Trump administration, the Office of Personnel Management gave agencies permission to hire political appointees into non-career Senior Executive Service positions so President Biden could quickly disperse his staff throughout government. As is typical in recent history, OPM gave the new administration 10 days to make the appointments and allowed the officials to remain in their jobs for just three weeks. 

On Monday, OPM extended the appointment authority through April and will allow the officials to stay at the agencies for 120 days. Agencies have told OPM in recent weeks they need more time to switch to Biden’s policies and programs and to complete pre-appointment background checks for designated officials, leading to the extension. Each Cabinet-level agency can appoint five non-career SESers and non-Cabinet agencies can appoint three, though OPM said it may authorize more slots to agencies with a “demonstrated need.” 

OPM will retain the authority to extend the appointments beyond 120 days if the officials are still working on transition-related activities. Agencies can also request OPM authority to extend individuals beyond the four-month period using another appointing authority. 

Separately, Trump’s OPM also authorized agencies to appoint temporary transition officials throughout government into positions for up to 240 days using a special Schedule C designation. Presidential appointees awaiting confirmation in the Senate can also serve in their agencies-to-be in temporary SES roles. 

An administration official said the agencies did not specify why they needed the extra time, but Biden has given agencies a detailed list of transition-related tasks. He issued a freeze on Trump’s “midnight regulations”  and immediately released more than 100 specific Trump administration actions for agencies to review related to climate change and scientific integrity. The new administration has walked back Trump-era policies related to immigration, budgeting, research, labor-management relations, contracting and more, though some groups are pushing Biden to go further in quickly unwinding Trump’s late actions. 

Veterans of transitions from previous administrations and campaigns have stressed the importance of the temporary appointees, saying they advise and build relationships with senior career staff, coordinate efforts to stop previously issued regulations that are not yet finalized and direct actions on high-priority policies. The Partnership for Public Service said in its 2020 transition guide that the officials “serve as temporary appointees until Senate-confirmed officials are in place, and help lay the groundwork for the new administration’s priorities.”