On Nov. 7, 2020, Joe Biden was declared the apparent election winner and president-elect, and over the course of the next few months, government contractors will need to prepare themselves for the administration transition. Below are answers to some of the most common questions asked by contractors during such a transition, as well as steps these contractors can take in the short term to set their businesses up for success in the years ahead.
What happens now?
Assuming the election results will be duly certified, the Biden transition teams will ramp up engagement with agency leadership to essentially gain a “state of the agency” perspective. Biden teams have been engaging with the Trump administration since the spring of 2020 to meet mandated transition requirements, and as of Nov. 23 the General Services Administration has indicated that they are ready to begin the formal transition process.
What are transition teams doing?
Agency transition team members are tasked with creating agency binders (most likely hard copy and digital) that provide key insights into agency issues, such as current priorities and challenges; impact of the pandemic on mission and budget; and workforce demographics and dynamics. Information will include critical mission programs and related performance and budget needs.
Biden’s teams will be focused on gathering information to:
- Develop an executive, legislative and agency policy agenda that incorporates proposals of the campaign platform;
- Get up to speed on the structure and goals of all federal agencies, and begin shaping plans for how each agency can help enact the president’s agenda;
- Begin the process for selecting presidential appointees (around 4,000, of which about 1,200 will require Senate confirmation). The team will also be orchestrating a massive recruitment effort to find enough candidates, some of which will require security clearances and ethics reviews, to ensure they are in place before Inauguration Day.
Given President-elect Biden’s lengthy government experience (and inclusion of Obama-era administration members in his campaign), his transition team will include very experienced members, which will be an asset for a speedy and effective transition.
What will the Biden administration’s immediate priorities be?
The incoming administration typically establishes an agenda on which to focus in the first 100 days. For the Biden administration, the first priority will be ramping up a COVID-19 task force to address testing, contact tracing and PPE availability, and pushing for the next COVID stimulus bill as part of an economic recovery agenda. Cabinet appointments for agencies critical in the response (e.g. HHS, Treasury) and the National Economic Director will be staffing priorities. Other priorities include:
- Immigration policy
- Racial equity
- Climate change (and rejoining the Paris Agreement)
- Rolling back the 2017 tax bill
- Re-engaging with the World Health Organization
- Nullifying some executive orders (perhaps those that banned diversity and inclusion training, directed the creation of a Schedule F employee classification and allowed privately-run federal prisons)
What will happen with the budget?
Agencies are currently operating under a continuing resolution until Dec. 11, 2020. If Congress fails to pass appropriations (or they pass appropriations but the president vetoes), a government shutdown would follow. If Congress passes appropriations but the president refuses to sign OR veto, the appropriations would be automatically enacted after 10 days.
What should contractors be doing in the near-term?
Government contractors should take the time to educate themselves about the state of the federal market. Administration transitions also offer an opportunity to reiterate the value of a company’s work to the agency mission.
- Prepare whitepapers/demos for new leadership. Begin to demonstrate your company’s value to new leadership by providing whitepapers and demonstrations relevant to the new administration and its priorities.
- Provide details for program defense. Assist federal clients with information tying programs to agency missions, illustrating successes and return on investment. Highlight strong performance and accomplishments. Document program performance based on budget, adherence to timelines and future plans.
- Evaluate talent leaving the government. People leaving government service are often sought after by vendors as a means to improve access and relationships. During an election cycle this activity peaks. However, their political views and party affiliation may determine the amount of impact they are able to facilitate depending on the election outcome.
- Mitigate uncertainty among employees. Change always brings uncertainty. When that change is institutional, employee uncertainty can lead to low morale, interruptions in service and other issues. Few institutional changes are as widespread and tumultuous as a presidential transition, so communication is important during this time of change. Reassure contract staff and educate them on what is being done to ensure the longevity of their contract and secure new work under the new administration.
What happens to contract spending during a transition?
There can be delays in solicitations and awards, depending on where agencies are in the process. Career employees who will remain after the transition may choose to pause some activities to offer incoming leadership an opportunity to provide feedback (this would be more likely with very large procurements). This, combined with the budget uncertainty that naturally accompanies a continuing resolution, could result in some contract bottlenecking. However, historical data shows that the overall effect in terms of total annual contract spending during a transition year is minimal.