This week, all eyes are on the Trump-appointed General Services Administration administrator, Emily W. Murphy, to recognize Joe Biden as the president-elect and release funds to the Biden transition team through a process called ascertainment. This would mark the first formal acknowledgment from the Trump administration that Biden has in fact won the election, and would unlock access to national security tools to streamline background checks and additional funds to pay for training and incoming staff.
But nearly 48 hours after the race was called by numerous news organizations, Murphy has not yet signed off. A GSA spokesperson declined to provide a specific timeline for when ascertainment would take place, a clear signal the agency won’t get ahead of the President.
“An ascertainment has not yet been made,” GSA spokesperson Pamela Pennington told CNN.
“The GSA Administrator does not pick the winner in the Presidential election. In accordance with the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (PTA), as amended, the GSA Administrator ascertains the apparent successful candidate once a winner is clear based on the process laid out in the Constitution,” Pennington said, declining to respond to CNN’s request for details on the threshold for an “apparent successful candidate.”
Back in early September, the Trump administration agreed to three memoranda of understanding with the Biden transition team, as laid out by the Presidential Transition Act. They were signed by the General Services Administration, the Department of Justice, and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. At the time, $9.62 million was allocated to the Biden transition team for pre-election services, which the team continues to receive.
Ascertainment would trigger the release of an additional $9.9 million in funds for post-election services, which includes $6.3 million for the incoming administration, $1 million for appointee orientation and training, and $2.6 million for outgoing services.
Among the items outlined in those MOUs, a transition official told CNN, were an agreement for the Trump administration to provide the Biden transition with office space, communications services, payment or reimbursement for certain activities, staff payroll, travel for the President-elect, expedited security clearance processes for national security nominees, and secure, compartmented national security briefings.
Former Obama White House communications director Jen Psaki, who is involved with the Biden transition, called on the GSA to “quickly” ascertain Biden on Sunday.
Psaki added, “America’s national security and economic interests depend on the federal government signaling clearly and swiftly that the United States government will respect the will of the American people and engage in a smooth and peaceful transfer of power.”
Additionally, the nonpartisan Center for Presidential Transition’s advisory board issued a statement Sunday evening, also calling on the Trump administration to “immediately” ascertain.
“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,” the board said in a statement, which was signed by Bush administration chief of staff Josh Bolten, Bush administration Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, Clinton chief of staff Mack McLarty and Obama Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.
In the meantime, there are informal ways to continue the transition process, said Clay Johnson III, who ran George W. Bush’s transition in 2000 at a time when the election’s outcome was delayed by more than a month over the disputed results in Florida.
“(Dick) Cheney said, ‘We can’t wait to see who wins this thing, we have to assume we win it. Full speed ahead,’ ” Johnson recalled, adding that the Bush transition team was unsure if they would get government support and resources and when it would come. Instead, they raised private money and rented their own office space.
“Money to support a privately funded transition is easy to raise. (The Biden team) can raise millions of dollars in half a day,” Johnson said.
Bush’s team was not legally allowed to formally offer any positions or conduct background checks, so they instead held informal interviews and informal background checks, asking candidates to divulge any possible red flags in their records.
CNN’s Kristen Holmes contributed to this report.