11.20.20

Reed & Whitehouse Call On GSA Administrator to End Unprecedented Delay & Provide Critical Transition Resources to President-Elect Biden

GSA Administrator’s needless delay in providing resources to Biden transition creates unacceptable risks to pandemic response & national security

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, after a six-day hand recount of ballots in Georgia reaffirmed that President-elect Joe Biden won a clear victory in the Peach State, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are urging the head of the General Services Administration (GSA) to expeditiously sign off on the transition process. The Senators say it is critical for the GSA to release $9.9 million in transition funds for the incoming Administration, allow the President-elect to receive high-level briefings, and begin the security clearance and background check process for future Biden Administration employees. However, President Trump’s political appointee, Emily Murphy, administrator of the GSA, and formerly a staffer for the Republican National Committee (RNC) has yet to “ascertain” that Joe Biden won the election and sign off on the official paperwork.

“Voters decide elections, not presidential appointees. It is clear that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election and the recount in Georgia is further proof of a resounding victory. Ms. Murphy’s refusal to ascertain President-elect Biden’s win is a dangerous political stunt that puts America’s public health and national security at risk and could create unnecessary financial hardship on taxpayers,” said Senator Reed. “In trying to delay the inevitable, Ms. Murphy’s partisan intransigence is doing the nation a real disservice. She bears full responsibility for damage caused by knowingly and needlessly truncating the transition process, which the bipartisan 9-11 Commission Report cited as a contributing factor to America’s unpreparedness for the terrorist attacks of September 11.”

“Transitioning the federal government to a new administration is a complex process that takes months under normal circumstances, and the pandemic only complicates matters further,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Every day that goes by without the Trump administration acknowledging the will of an overwhelming majority of the American people imperils the health, security, and economic wellbeing of the nation.”

Reed and Whitehouse teamed up with U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) and several colleagues in penning a letter to GSA Administrator Murphy urging her to end her unprecedented delay, immediately ascertain Vice President Joe Biden as President-elect and Senator Kamala Harris as Vice President-elect, and make available the transition resources that are provided by law.

“The United States is in the midst of a pandemic that has now claimed over 250,000 lives, with the number of new cases rising daily. Our country also faces a number of ongoing threats, including physical and cyber attacks from foreign actors, violence from domestic extremists, and natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes,” the 41 Senators wrote.

“The GSA Administrator’s ascertainment of a President-elect is also critical for agencies’ willingness to share information with the transition team, including classified information, as well as for the expeditious processing of security clearances for candidates for high-level national security positions. Your delay in acknowledging Vice President Biden’s status as President-elect could undermine efforts by the incoming Administration to meet the needs of the American people in a time of national emergency,” continued the Senators.

Under the Presidential Transition Act, GSA is charged with providing resources and support to the President-elect and Vice President-elect so they can be ready to govern from Day One. Administrator Murphy must complete the ascertainment process to allow the President-elect’s transition team to receive needed information from agency officials at public health and national security agencies, ensure incoming national security officials can receive background checks and access to classified information and provide federal funding and resources to support the transition process.

A smooth and efficient transition is one of the hallmarks of American democracy. With the exception of the Presidential election in 2000 and the resulting recount, ascertainment by GSA normally happens within a day after a winner is declared, including in 2008 and 2016. The bipartisan 9/11 Commission found that the shortened transition following the 2000 recount created serious vulnerabilities, including delays related to key national security appointments.

President-elect Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States at 12 noon on January 20, 2021.

Joining Peters in sending the letter were U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Jack Reed (D-RI), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Chris Coons (D-DE), Ed Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tina Smith (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Doug Jones (D-AL).

Text of the letter follows:

Dear Administrator Murphy,

We are writing to express deep concern regarding reports that the General Services Administration (GSA) has delayed providing President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris with the resources they need to ensure a timely and efficient presidential transition. We urge you to immediately ascertain Vice President Biden as President-elect and Senator Harris as Vice President-elect and allow the transition team to receive the resources required under the law. We also request an urgent briefing on steps GSA is taking to ensure an orderly transition.

The United States is in the midst of a pandemic that has now claimed over 250,000 lives, with the number of new cases rising daily. Our country also faces a number of ongoing threats, including physical and cyber attacks from foreign actors, violence from domestic extremists, and natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes. The independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission cited the shortened transition timeline for then President-elect George W. Bush as a factor in delaying key national security personnel appointments, potentially hampering the new Administration. A timely transition is critical to ensure coordination between the current and incoming Administrations, provide the incoming Administration with the resources they need to immediately address these challenges, and safeguard the public health and our national security.

Under the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, as amended, GSA is charged with providing resources and support to the President-elect and Vice President-elect. Specifically, GSA must provide office space, communication services, funding for transition staff compensation, and other support. In response to a request from the Administration, Congress has appropriated $9.9 million to GSA for transition related activities. The GSA Administrator’s ascertainment of a President-elect is also critical for agencies’ willingness to share information with the transition team, including classified information, as well as for the expeditious processing of security clearances for candidates for high-level national security positions. Your delay in acknowledging Vice President Biden’s status as President-elect could undermine efforts by the incoming Administration to meet the needs of the American people in a time of national emergency.

This delay is also unprecedented. In both 2008 and 2016, President-elect Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump, respectively, were recognized by the GSA Administrator as President-elect within a day of the general election. In 2000, this decision was delayed due to an ongoing court case regarding less than 1,000 votes in a single state—a far closer election than this one. The results of this election are clear. Vice President Biden will be the next President of the United States, and Senator Harris will be the next Vice President. It is past time to recognize the will of the American people so that the work of government can continue.

The orderly transition of power from one President to another is a bedrock principle of our democracy and one of GSA’s most important duties. We urge you to fulfill your responsibilities, ascertain Vice President Biden as President-elect and Senator Harris as Vice President-elect, and provide their transition team with the resources the law requires. We also request that, no later than November 23, 2020, GSA provide a briefing to staff of the Committees on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Appropriations, and Environment and Public Works regarding the presidential transition process and the support that GSA has provided to date.

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.

Sincerely,