The Center for Presidential Transition has gathered answers to the most frequently asked questions about the political appointment process. For information about navigating this process, visit our Ready to Serve website.
Previous experiences can inform the work of the current presidential transition facing today’s unique challenges. This report includes eight recommendations for a president-elect’s transition team and an outgoing White House based on interviews with veterans of previous transitions and other experts.
President-elect Biden and his team have already started their transition work, demonstrating skill, experience and purpose. Now that ascertainment has occurred, they can continue with the full support of the United States government.
RESOURCES NOW AVAILABLE
1. The Biden-Harris agency review teams may begin coordination with the 17 agencies with intelligence responsibilities.
2. The General Services Administration (GSA) can release $6.3 million in congressionally appropriated funds to the transition team, along with 175,000 square feet of federal office space, including secure facilities for sensitive intelligence briefings.
3. Career agency transition directors can coordinate with the Biden-Harris transition team and deliver the briefing materials they have been preparing for the past six months.
4. The Biden-Harris team will be granted access to agency succession plans naming acting officials who will hold key positions until Senate-confirmed appointees are in place.
5. The Department of Justice (DOJ) may begin the final step in adjudicating final, non-interim security clearances for transition team members and political appointees entering the administration on Day One.
6. The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) can begin coordinating agency ethics officials to support nominees who must disclose, and if necessary, divest assets in accordance with federal ethics laws.
7. The Office of Performance Management (OPM) can release guidance on personnel actions to take in preparation for the incoming administration, including a moratorium on agencies’ SES Qualifications Review Board process and the authorization for agencies to move forward with Temporary Schedule C and Temporary Non-Career SES hires.
8. The White House Transition Coordinating Council will facilitate homeland security and emergency preparedness exercises as required by law.
9. The National Archives and Records Administration will provide guidance to the outgoing administration and transition team on managing and preserving presidential records.
10. The Biden-Harris transition team will be granted access to an official .gov website and government software applications for the intake of applicants for political appointments.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: How much time was lost due to the delay?
A: Recent transitions have had about 77 days between the election and inauguration. The Biden team will have 57 days.
Q: How does this delay compare with other recent transitions?
A: For all recent transitions, the GSA identified the winner immediately following the election. The only exception was in 2000 during the tight election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. That year, the GSA identified the winner on Dec. 13 immediately following Gore’s concession speech.
This year’s election outcome was substantially different than that of 2000.
Q: What adjustments have been made due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
When Biden’s transition team was given federal office space after the political conventions, the GSA informed the team of guidelines produced by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. The transition team was responsible for determining how the guidelines would be implemented.
Additionally, the GSA and federal agencies have increased the use of videoconference platforms and made documents available in digital formats. When in-person meetings are necessary, agencies and agency review teams will follow COVID-19 safety protocols to allow for safe in-person interactions.
Q: Does a shortened transition impact a president’s first year?
A: It can. The bipartisan 9/11 Commission, which studied the tragic terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, found the Bush administration did not have its full national security team in place for at least six months after it took office.
Additional research by the Center for Presidential Transition showed that that the shortened transition in 2000 resulted in President Bush having half as many top appointees in place at the 100-day mark of his term as President Barack Obama did eight years later with a full transition period.
Q: What are other available resources to learn more?
A: For more information on the transition process, please refer to the following resources produced by the Center for Presidential Transition.
- Transition Lab podcast: State of the Transition: An Update With Ken Burns, Josh Bolten and Eric Rauchway
- Transition Lab podcast: How Does the GSA “Ascertain” the Outcome of an Election: An Inside Look at the GSA, Ascertainment and the 2000 Election with David Barram
- Transition Lab podcast: The Art of Agency Review During a Presidential Transition with Lisa Brown
- Transition Lab podcast: Preparing the Government for a Presidential Transition with GSA’s Mary Gibert
- Virtual event: Talking Transitions: Perspectives for First-term and Second-term Administrations
Letter ascertaining the winner of the 2020 presidential election from GSA Administrator Emily Murphy to President-elect Joe Biden on Nov. 23, 2020, which triggers to resources and support from the General Services Administration in support of the presidential transition.
Further delays by the General Services Administration in recognizing the outcome of the Nov. 3 election could impede the ability of President-elect Joe Biden to make timely and critical appointments for key COVID-19 and national security-related positions, thereby weakening the government’s ability to protect our nation and distribute life-saving vaccines.
The Presidential Records Act outlines requirements regarding the maintenance, access and preservation of presidential and vice-presidential information during and after a presidency. The act states that presidential records are the property of the United States and must be preserved in perpetuity.
The Federal Records Act outlines how federal agency employees should determine whether information they create qualifies as a federal record and governs how federal records are to be collected, retained, and eventually either destroyed or provided to the National Archives and Records Administration for permanent archiving.
With a little over two months before Inauguration Day and the country facing a raging pandemic, an economic crisis and numerous national security and domestic challenges, the cost of withholding critical federal transition support increases every day.
Following the 2000 election, Bush-Cheney Transition Chairman Dick Cheney communicated the implications of a delayed transition, the requirements of building a new government and his thoughts on the General Service Administration’s denial of transition resources. These quotes are primarily from news conferences on Nov. 27 and Nov. 29, 2000.
November 8, 2020
The Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition is the nation’s premier nonpartisan source of information and resources designed to help presidential candidates and their teams lay the groundwork for a new administration or for a president’s second term. The Center has been active in transition activities on a bipartisan basis for four cycles.
We congratulate Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris on their successful and historic campaign for the White House. In our role we have observed the seriousness with which they have taken the transition planning process. They embraced transition planning early, recruited a seasoned and disciplined team and resourced their transition effort commensurate with the challenges that President-elect Biden will face on January 20. While there will be legal disputes requiring adjudication, the outcome is sufficiently clear that the transition process must now begin.
As candidate Biden becomes President-elect Biden, he and his transition team will quickly shift from campaigning to governing. To build an effective government ready to address the urgent needs of our great country, the new president will have to recruit 4,000 political appointees, including 1,250 who require Senate confirmation; prepare a $4.7 trillion budget; implement a strong policy agenda; and assume leadership of a workforce of 2 million civilian employees and 2 million active duty and reserve troops.
We want to also applaud the two other key stakeholders necessary for a successful transition – the White House staff and the career officials throughout the federal government with responsibility for transition planning under the Presidential Transition Act. The White House staff took implementation of the Presidential Transition Act seriously, met every statutory milestone and worked closely with the career officials responsible for transition planning. The career federal officials with responsibility for transition planning, led by the GSA, did exactly what one would expect from highly qualified, experienced career officials – they planned and prepared methodically for either eventuality – a Trump re-election or a Biden win.
Now the real challenge begins. We urge the Trump administration to immediately begin the post-election transition process and the Biden team to take full advantage of the resources available under the Presidential Transition Act. This was a hard-fought campaign, but history is replete with examples of presidents who emerged from such campaigns to graciously assist their successors. “Your success now is our country’s success,” George H.W. Bush wrote in 1993 to the incoming president who involuntarily retired him, “I am rooting hard for you.”
Josh Bolten, White House Chief of Staff and Director of the Office of Management and Budget, George W. Bush Administration (Republican)
Michael Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services and Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, George W. Bush Administration, Governor of Utah (Republican)
Thomas F. (Mack) McLarty, White House Chief of Staff, Clinton Administration (Democrat)
Penny S. Pritzker, Secretary of Commerce, Obama Administration (Democrat)