General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy notified the Joe Biden presidential campaign late Nov. 23 that her agency will now make transition resources available, after weeks of criticism for holding back cooperation.
“Because of recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results, I have determined that you may access the post-election resources and services described in Section 3 of the [Presidential Transition] Act upon request,” Murphy wrote to Biden.
Contacted by the Biden-Harris transition team late Monday, a Pentagon spokesperson said DoD will begin immediately implementing its plan to provide support in accordance with the Presidential Transition Act.
“The DoD Transition Task Force will arrange and coordinate all DoD contact with the Biden-Harris team,” said Sue Gough, the Pentagon spokesperson. “DoD is prepared to provide post-election services and support in a professional, orderly, and efficient manner that is befitting of the public’s expectation of the Department and our commitment to national security.”
Though she spent much of her time in the Trump administration flying under the radar of national attention save for federal contracting and real estate wonks, Murphy was catapulted into the spotlight after Biden was called as the presumptive winner of the 2020 presidential election.
Citing precedent from the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, GSA declined to make funds appropriated for presidential transition efforts available to the Biden team for weeks after Election Day.
In the case of the 2000 election, the winner came down to a tight race in a single state. It was weeks before a clear president-elect could be determined.
But members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform contended that the current election situation was nothing like the one that occurred in 2000 and requested an immediate briefing Nov. 19 on why GSA had not made funding available.
“Unlike the dispute after the 2000 election in Bush v. Gore, there is no legitimate path forward for President Trump — regardless of how many baseless lawsuits he files or his irrelevant refusal to concede,” committee members wrote in their letter to Murphy.
“He has now lost dozens of cases in multiple states as many of his own attorneys abandon his efforts. There is no valid legal basis to withhold the ascertainment designation under the Presidential Transition Act.”
Capping a series of legal losses in challenging the election results, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined Nov. 23 that mail-in ballots with incomplete envelopes could be counted in the state, a blow to Trump campaign efforts.
Murphy cited such recent legal events as rationale for making the transition funds available now, maintaining that her prior decision to withhold such funds was not influenced by Executive Branch pressure to delay assistance.
“I strongly believe that the statute requires that the GSA administrator ascertain, not impose, the apparent president-elect,” Murphy wrote.
“Unfortunately, the statute provides no procedures or standards for this process, so I looked to precedent from prior elections involving legal challenges and incomplete counts. GSA does not dictate the outcome of legal disputes and recounts, nor does it determine whether such proceedings are reasonable or justified.”
Murphy also called on Congress to amend the law governing such transitions, so that future administrators of the agency do not end up in the middle of making a decision about the election results.
Partnership for Public Service President and CEO Max Stier also called for a statutory remedy to the situation, adding that such a change should establish a “clearer standard and a low bar for triggering access to transition resources.”
The Biden team will have $6.3 million available to carry out the provisions of the Presidential Transition Act, as well as an additional $1 million to provide appointee orientation sessions and a transition directory.
The Biden team will also have office space provided by GSA for 60 days after the inauguration, under the Presidential Transition Enhancement Act, an effort to more thoroughly support the change of presidential administration.
Criticism of Murphy’s delay in providing transition resources was especially pointed in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that essential planning for the Biden administration could not take place without financial support.
“Now that GSA Administrator Emily Murphy has fulfilled her duty and ascertained the election results, the formal presidential transition can begin in full force,” said Stier.
“Unfortunately, every day lost to the delayed ascertainment was a missed opportunity for the outgoing administration to help President-elect Joe Biden prepare to meet our country’s greatest challenges. The good news is that the president-elect and his team are the most prepared and best equipped of any incoming administration in recent memory.”
Jessie Bur covered the federal workforce and the changes most likely to impact government employees for Federal Times.