US ELECTIONS

Trump to Biden: when will the transfer of power begin?

The transition process between Biden and Trump is nearing the end, but has been broken into three phases which take place over roughly one year.

Trump to Biden: when will the transfer of power begin?
JIM WATSON AFP

In the world’s longest standing democracy, the peaceful transition of power after a new president has been elected is generally a trouble-free process since George Washington first handed off the presidency to his successor, John Adams, in the late 1700s.

But this time things could be different with President Donald Trump still refusing to concede he has lost the election, mounting a series of legal challenges in several states on the back of baseless claims of election fraud. 

After being declared the winner of the 2020 US elections on Saturday, Joe Biden is set to be inaugurated on 20 January, 2021 as the 46th president of the United States. During the intervening 70 days, the transition process will likely move ahead, whether Donald Trump is willing to accept that process or not. Even if his lawsuits do go ahead and prompt some uncertainty about the transition, the process will have to continue as normal under the assumption that Biden will take over on 20 January.

In fact, planning and preparation was initiated two and a half years ago by the nonpartisan federal employees who oversee the whole process. Trump and Biden’s campaigns then became involved in the process in May, as required by the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, with the president’s administration stipulated by law to establish a “White House transition coordinating council” to facilitate the process in preparation of Biden’s potential election. 

That process is said to have gone well up to this point, with the council having so far met all necessary deadlines on updating Congress on its progress. Now that Biden has been elected, his incoming transition team will be tasked with overseeing the hiring of more than 4,000 government appointees, preparing policy plans and initiating their execution, as well as organizing logistical tasks such as setting up offices.

US President Donald J. Trump departs the White House, in Washington, DC, USA, 08 November 2020. Trump has not conceded the 2020 Election to former Vice President Biden yet, and his administration has initiated a number of law suits challenging the voting results. Media report on 07 November 2020 that Joe Biden has won the Electoral College's majority following the 03 November presidential election.

Goals of the transition process

According to Presidential Transition Guide published by the Center for Presidential Transition (CPT), the main goals of the transition for a new president are as follows:

  • Staffing the White House and the Executive Office of the President, developing a functional decision-making process and preparing to assume governing responsibility.
  • Making more than 4,000 presidential appointments, more than 1,200 of which require Senate confirmation.
  • Getting up to speed on more than 100 federal agencies and organizing and training leadership teams for each one.
  • Building a policy platform for the new administration based on campaign promises, and planning executive actions, a management agenda, a budget proposal and potential legislation.
  • Preparing a 100- to 200-day plan for executing the policies laid out during the campaign to help the new administration get off to a quick start.

Transition timeline

The full transition process is broken into three phases: the Pre-election “Planning” Phase, the Post-Election “Transition Phase” and the Post-Inauguration “Handover” Phase. These three phases cover roughly one ear, from April and May of the election year though the new administration’s first 200 days in office.

Pre-election “Planning” Phase

During this phase, key transition team staff are assembled and organized, a project plan and goals are set, and relationships are established with Congress, the current administration, the General Services Administration, the Office of Government Ethics, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of Personnel Management.

Post-Election “Transition Phase”

During the 75-day period between election and inauguration, the transition team handle the influx of campaign staff and prepare to take over the functions of government. As outlined by the Transition Guide, key activities in this phase include: "staffing the White House and agencies; deploying agency review teams to visit agencies; building out the president-elect’s policy and management agendas and schedule; and identifying the key talent necessary to execute the new president’s priorities."

Post-Inauguration “Handover” Phase

The main focus of this final phase of the transition is the vetting of staff and appointees based on the president’s top priorities, with new administration set to make around 4,000 political appointments.