By Emma Jones

On Monday, November 23, the formal transition period officially began. The administrator of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy, ascertained the results of the 2020 presidential election. This decision recognizes President-elect Joe Biden as the “apparent winner” of the election under the 1963 Presidential Transition Act and is a critical milestone in the transition process. 

The official transition period of 78 days has been shortened to 57 days. The last time the country faced a shortened transition was in 2000. GSA’s delayed ascertainment shortened George W. Bush’s official transition to just 36 days. We have learned that delays can be costly to a successful transition. In 2002, the 9/11 Commission Report concluded that a delayed transition hurt the Bush administration’s ability to confirm key national security appointments critical to the safety of the country. Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, reflected on the upcoming challenges for the transition in a statement on Monday. 

“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.” 

Stier continued, “Moving forward, we must pursue statutory remedies to ensure that a transition is never again upheld for arbitrary or political purposes. A clearer standard and a low bar for triggering access to transition resources are crucial to protecting the apolitical nature of presidential transitions.” 

“President-elect Biden and his team have already started their transition work, demonstrating skill, experience and purpose. Now they can continue with the full support of the United States government,” said David Marchick, director of the Center for Presidential Transition at the Partnership for Public Service. “Fortunately, federal career civil servants have done an outstanding job preparing for this year’s transition by producing fact-based information on critical agency issues and by designating acting officials who will lead agency operations until new political appointees are confirmed. They now need space to do their jobs.” 

The Center for Presidential Transition released a list detailing the resources available to the Biden transition team now that ascertainment is complete. Those resources include $6.3 million in congressionally appropriated funds, 175,000 square feet of federal office space including Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities and most importantly, access to more than 100 federal agencies and the ability to process and clear presidential appointments. These resources will be critical for distributing a COVID-19 vaccine, repairing a broken economy and protecting the country’s national security interests. 

For the benefit of the American people, the remaining work of the most important presidential transition of the century can now begin.

Host David Marchick, along with award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, former George W. Bush chief of staff Josh Bolten, and historian Eric Rauchway, reflects on the current state of the transition, the costs of delay and how this moment will be remembered.

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On this week’s episode of Transition Lab, host David Marchick unpacks the contested 2000 presidential election with David J. Barram, who served as administrator of the General Services Administration from 1996-2000. Barram discusses the process of ascertainment, his work during the 2000 election and how that contest differed from the 2020 race.

Find out more at the Center for Presidential Transition.

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