By: Nathaniel Ballantyne
If you asked, “who the fuck is Emily Murphy,” that would be a good question; until yesterday, I did not know who she was either. But this powerful woman could complicate things for the Biden transition team. Emily Murphy is the administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA). The law says before a President-Elect can access government money or communicate with a federal agency, the Administrator of the GSA must “ascertained” the President-elect. This means before Biden’s transition team can move forward and access money or contact federal officials, Murphy, a Trump appointee, must make that determination.
While everyone and their grandmother know that Biden has won the election, President Donald Trump refused to concede, saying, “The simple fact is this election is far from over, legal votes decide who is president, not the news media.”
Murphy’s boss put her in a very difficult position. While the GSA must be non-partisan, Murphy is reluctant to say that Biden had won and ascertain it because Trump refuses to concede. Saying simply that, “an ascertainment has not been made GSA and its Administrators will continue to abide by and fulfill all requirements under the law.”
The law governing the GSA’s ascertainment role is very vague and leaves it up to the Administrator to determine when and if Biden is officially the president-elect. All of this adds more complications to an already difficult process.
On December 14, 2020, the Electoral College will cast their ballots presumably in favor of Biden, who won the election. She could potentially wait until that day or shortly thereafter to make the “ascertainment.” The problem would be that the transition team would lose valuable time and resources, which could hamper Biden’s ability to hit the grounds running with all of his team in place by January 20, 2021.
While waiting for Murphy, the Biden team can continue moving forward with most transition preparations, including formally vetting and running FBI background checks on potential Cabinet appointees. They can’t yet work with the Office of Government Ethics, although that’s a secondary step that typically happens later on in the vetting process.
But the GSA call is most important because it will green-light the agency review process. Biden officials gain access to federal agencies to begin collecting information from each department. Any delay there would hinder their ability to start working with current employees to identify critical decisions that will need to be made and quick actions that can be taken in each agency.
For now, Biden’s team is banking on career civil servants ignoring Trump’s bluster and moving forward with the transfer of power.
“It’s historically been a part of our country’s gene pool that even when you lose, you want to help,” said a person close to Biden. “Trump’s attacks may make the transition more difficult than it would have been otherwise, but it’s not that problematic until and unless it becomes a completely unproductive handoff.”