What a Biden transition will look like on the ground in Washington

West side of the Capitol Building at Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Daily photos in the afternoon, good for late autumn, winter and early spring illustration(Getty Images/iStockphoto/Toshe_O)

President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team is expected to hit the ground running fast through the inauguration on Jan. 20 — and with office space secured, rank-and-file employees can expect visits from agency review teams starting soon.

In particular, it’s career employees on the senior executive team, not political appointees, who will be meeting with members of the Biden transition team.

“People that might be very familiar names from the Obama administration (will) be fanning out, physically visiting agencies, getting the lay of the land,” said Tom Temin with WTOP’s partners at Federal News Network.

“They’ll be talking with high-level officials of the career path to understand what the issues are, what’s going on.”

One small but significant sticking point on the transition is that Emily Murphy, the administrator of the General Services Administration, has yet to sign off in writing that Biden is in fact president-elect.

Under law, that determination is required before Biden’s people can receive resources that would enable a more speedy transition. Those include office space in federal agencies, the ability to discuss policies with agency staff and federal dollars.

Additionally, President Donald Trump has declined so far to concede the race, and a series of fresh legal challenges were expected on Monday. Technically, the race may not be over.

But once the transition begins, Temin said a number of positions left vacant by the Trump administration will be among those the Biden administration will seek to fill quickly.

“You’re going to see, very quickly, the ranks fill up,” Temin said. “Not just the secretaries, but where a lot of the policy really gets executed, and that is the deputy secretary levels throughout the federal government.”

But while many of those positions will require a confirmation which could prove a hurdle depending on the Senate’s makeup come January, there are things Biden can act upon immediately once he takes office. Temin expects such actions will generally favor federal employees.

“I think he’s going to immediately repeal the Schedule F executive order that politicized some of the positions now held by career people that develop or advocate for policy,” said Temin. “That’s probably going to be gone on Day 1.”

Temin also thinks Biden’s administration will restore “union official time,” allowing employees to conduct union work while on the federal clock. He also thinks union offices will return inside federal agencies too.

“You’re going to see settlement of long-standing labor disputes with two of the unions,” Temin said, referring to yearslong disputes with some employees in the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I think you’re going to see a settlement on all of those things very quickly.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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