A little-known government agency is now front-and-center in the conversation about presidential transition of power.
On a typical day, the General Services Administration handles day-to-day operations of the U.S. government, in charge of things like cost-cutting programs, federal real estate and transportation for government workers. But they are also tasked with ascertaining, or determining, the apparent victor in a presidential election, then freeing up money and access should a transition be necessary.
“They play a critical role in actually triggering the process where a presidential campaign – a winning presidential campaign – transitions from being a campaign into an administration,” said Robert Yoon, a political science professor at University of Michigan. “I’s a very complex process and there are a lot of moving parts.”
Yoon says the GSA typically takes only a few days at most to ascertain a victor, but President Trump’s refusal to concede is throwing doubt on a usually mechanical process. Without go-ahead from the GSA and the agency’s Trump-appointed leader, the Biden transition team cannot receive almost $10-million in federal funds to hire new staffers, move into government buildings, begin dialogue with federal agencies, or have access to classified information and intelligence, including important information on a raging coronavirus Biden will inherit when he takes office next year.
“A lot of this involves sometimes classified information…a lot of these things can’t be done just by ordinary citizens,” said Yoon. “The less time there is in order to address that transition, it just increases the likelihood or the possibility that details will fall through the cracks.”
There’s no set timeline for the GSA to make a decision – Yoon thinks it’ll likely happen before the Electoral College meets on December 14th. The Biden transition team has already started fundraising to cover the cost of hiring new administration staff.
The only precedent for this type of delay was set back in 2000 – during the hanging chad debacle in Florida. Then, the margin of victory was only a few hundred votes. This time, Yoon says, the vote difference between Biden and Trump is in the thousands, and in multiple states, so he believes the delay is irregular.
“Normally, in presidential elections, the ascertainment is given just a few days after that process,” he said. “The situation this time, it is unusual in a case where these media organizations have made the same projection about who the winner is going to be.”