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The Biden-Harris Transition: What’s Next

The decision desks have spoken and awarded Democrat Joe Biden enough states to claim 270 Electoral College votes and the right to become the next President of the United States.  The remaining arguments will drone on, the lawsuits, recounts, and the rest.  But regardless, for now, finally, this means we are officially off to the races on Transition.


Even in normal times, the 80 days between Election and Inauguration of a new president are barely enough to prepare for the awesome responsibilities involved in setting up a new Administration, and Transition teams for both campaigns have been working for months. Already, the Biden-Harris campaign has-


Now that the wraps are off, expect the process to accelerate quickly.  The Transition website will populate it pages with reams of details, announcements will come in torrents, and patterns will quickly emerge.  Beyond big-picture planning, principal focus will be on two fronts: jobs and agency review.


Jobs: The President-Elect himself and senior aids will focus initially on cabinet members, agency heads, and other high-profile posts, but this is only the tip of an enormous iceberg.  The Executive Branch of the United States government is a sprawling, complex organization with dozens of agencies and over 2.6 million civilian employees, including slots for about 4,000 political appointees.  Of these, some 1,200 require presidential appointment and senate confirmation (PAS), another 700 are part of the non-career Senior Executive Service, while most of the rest are “schedule C’s” often chosen by agency heads with White House concurrence. 


A full list of political slots governmentwide is published every four years in the so-called “Plum Book” released by GSA on its website.  The new 2020 version is not yet out – 2016’s was posted December 1 – but a look at the 2016 version gives a good preliminary idea how each agency is structured, what jobs may become available, which are PAS, or schedule C, and how they fit in the hierarchy.  


Traditionally, within days (or hours) of the election being decided, the winning team is inundated with literally tens of thousands of applications from people all over the country – especially those involved in the campaign – vying for these slots.  For the Transition, weeding through the flood of applicants and making wise choices can be profoundly important.  A qualified, energized team of political appointees can make all the difference in helping a new President succeed in his agenda.  Candidates often mount well-organized campaigns for administration positions, recruiting political “heavy-weights” (Senators, Congressmen, interest group leaders, so on) to help plead their cases.       


If you or your organizations have candidates you’d like to advocate for particular jobs in the new administration, or if you yourself are interested in pursuing a position, now if the time to start.  Serving in government can be a highly rewarding experience, in terms of the education you receive, the opportunities you encounter to make a difference, and the lifelong friendships you can form.   Let us know if we can offer advice on how to navigate the process.


Agency Review:  A second major early focus of the Transition is the agency review process. Again, within days of the election outcome, the incoming Administration’s Transition group will usually announce its Agency Review Teams – often referred to as “boarding parties” – whose job is to visit each Federal agency and make an initial assessment of pending issues, emerging crises, and key decisions facing the new Administration within the opening weeks of the new term, be it on policy, budget, personnel,  or crises in the country.  These Review Teams  generally receive extensive briefings from senior career agency staff, review briefing books, and conduct interviews to collect a working profile; the groups also frequently seek input from key outside stakeholder groups in making their agency assessments.  Their reports then become pivotal briefing materials for incoming political appointees, including those who must face Senate confirmation hearings.  


The identity of the Review Teams itself can often provide early insights into how the new Administration plans to approach key agencies.  


This year, we have an added wrinkle as, so far, President Trump has not yet conceded the election nor indicated how or whether he will cooperate with the Biden-Harris Transition.  Notably, the General Services Administration (GSA), which legally controls the Transition operation for the Executive Branch, has refused to recognize Biden as President-Elect to initiate the process.  If the White House instructs GSA and other agencies to continue to block the Transition, refuse to meet with Transition Review Teams, allow entry, or share briefing books, this process could be substantially delayed or disrupted.  


We will be stay on top of these developments and let you know once the identity of these groups is announced.  If you have questions about how to interact with either the review teams or the Transition overall, please let us know.


Again, now that the public phase of the Transition has begun, expect the pace to pick up considerably.  Watch this space.


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