A Bumpy Transition: Where Do We Go From Here?
November 17, 2020
On Saturday, November 7, most major media outlets declared Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 presidential election.1 While the Biden team has already begun its informal transition, it has not yet been granted access to intelligence briefings, office space, or other elements of a formal transition.2 This formal transition cannot happen until the General Services Administration issues a “letter of ascertainment.”3 President Donald Trump has not formally conceded the election, as his campaign is continuing to file lawsuits, so far unsuccessfully, around the country.4
WATCH: “What Is the GSA, and What Role Does It Play in the Presidential Transition?” from CBS News
Biden’s inauguration will take place on January 20, 2021.5 While the outcome of the election is all but certain,6 much can still happen between November and January to shape the early months of the Biden administration. The transition to a new administration is a significant undertaking, involving every federal agency, staff members in the current administration, and staff members in the incoming administration. In the midst of an economic downturn, the COVID-19 pandemic, and an effort to develop, produce, and distribute a vaccine, a smooth transition may be even more difficult and necessary in 2020.7
What Happens During a Transition?
In order to be ready to hit the ground running, there are many things that a president-elect must accomplish during the transition. According to the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition, these are the primary goals of a new president during this important time:
- Staffing the White House and the Executive Office of the President.
- Making more than 4,000 presidential appointments, more than 1,200 of which require Senate confirmation.
- Getting up to speed on more than 100 federal agencies and organizing and training leadership teams for each one.
- Building a policy platform for the new administration based on campaign promises, and planning executive actions, a management agenda, a budget proposal, and potential legislation.
- Preparing a 100-to-200-day plan for executing the policies laid out during the campaign to help the new administration get off to a quick start.
- Developing a strategy for communicating with the American people, Congress, the media, political appointees, the federal agencies, and other stakeholders.8
While this list seems manageable, it relies heavily on the cooperation of the outgoing administration. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health officials are raising alarms over the decision by the Trump administration to block or delay transition efforts.9 Some experts are also concerned that the Trump administration’s behavior could harm national security.10 However, President Trump’s national security advisor has promised a professional transition.11
LISTEN: “How Presidential Transitions Usually Happen and What Could Be Different This Time,” from NPR
The weeks ahead may be pivotal to ensuring a smooth transition from the Trump administration to the Biden administration. The transition is an aspect of government that many people take for granted, and, except for the appointment of officials who require Senate confirmation, transitions take place largely out of the public eye. However, it seems that this transition will be closely watched for evidence of cooperation between political rivals.
- What was your personal reaction to the news that Biden won the election? What did your friends and family think?
- What discussions have you had with others about the election since Election Day?
- What issues do you hope the Biden administration prioritizes after the inauguration? What would you like to see done?
- How involved/engaged were you during the election? Did you read/watch the news? Talk with friends, family, and classmates? Post on social media? Volunteer for a campaign?
- How will you stay engaged after the election?
- NBC News: “Trump is Stonewalling Biden’s Transition. Here’s Why It Matters”
- New York Times: “Presidential Transition: As More Republicans Break with Trump, He Refuses to Budge”
- Voice of America News: “What is a Presidential Transition?”
- C-SPAN’s Washington Journal: “Max Stier on the Presidential Transition Process”