Today marks six months from the start of the next presidential transition, and the public needs to know if the Trump administration is meeting the benchmarks required under federal law to set up the process. President Trump has begun some formal planning, but it remains unclear whether the administration will be fully prepared to shepherd our government into a second Trump term or to transfer power to his successor. Without transparency, this transition process is especially vulnerable since Trump and his political appointees have routinely bent, broken or ignored federal laws barring the co-opting of federal resources for political purposes.
Under the Presidential Transitions Improvements Act of 2015, presidential candidates are required to set up a team to work with agency leaders at least six months before Election Day. Last week was the first time since the coronavirus outbreak that the General Services Administration (GSA) updated its public timeline. Significant May deadlines include establishment of transition councils, the administration’s six month report to Congress, and the designation of agency leads for the transition process. According to recent new reports, that process is underway, but many more deadlines loom ahead.
CREW has requested documents on communications about the transition team from a number of federal agencies that are integral to the transition process including GSA, the National Archives and Records Administration which oversees records management, and the Office of Government Ethics which works with transition teams to ensure nominees are free of conflicts of interest. CREW has also requested documents on transition from the Office of Personnel Management, the Department of Justice, and the Office of Management and Budget which also have traditionally played a significant role in the presidential transition process.
It is particularly pressing that the public knows if agencies are discussing the impact of the novel coronavirus on the upcoming transition and making subsequent recommendations to agencies. Given the President’s notorious interference with independent agencies, the public needs confidence that the president’s political appointees are allowing career officials to lead transition efforts unobstructed. The public deserves to know if the Trump administration is following the law and effectively and transparently managing the 2020/2021 presidential transition.