United States presidential transition
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In the United States, a presidential transition is the process during which the president-elect of the United States prepares to take over the administration of the federal government of the United States from the incumbent president. Though planning for transition by a non-incumbent candidate can start at any time before a presidential election and in the days following, the transition formally starts when the General Services Administration (GSA) declares an “apparent winner” of the election, thereby releasing the funds appropriated by Congress for the transition, and continues until inauguration day, when the president-elect takes the oath of office, at which point the powers, immunities, and responsibilities of the presidency are legally transferred to the new president.
The 20th Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1933, moved the beginning and ending of the terms of the president and vice president from March 4 to January 20, thereby also shortening the transition period. After the election, an outgoing president is commonly referred to as a lame duck president. A transition can also arise intra-term if a president dies, resigns or is removed from office, though the period may be very short.
The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 provides the current mechanisms to facilitate an orderly and peaceful transition of power. Under existing federal law and custom, the major-party presidential candidates receive classified national security briefings once their nomination is formalized by their party. They are also entitled to presidential transition services and facilities provided by the General Services Administration, including office space, equipment and the payment of certain related expenses. Just after the presidential election, a revised edition of the Plum Book is published, which lists over 9,000 federal civil service leadership and support political appointment positions which an incoming administration needs to review, and fill or confirm. Though the formal transition commences when it is clear that a non-incumbent candidate has won the election, counting of votes continues until all votes are counted, after which officials from each state certify the state's final tally before the presidential electors are formally appointed and the Electoral College meets in mid-December to cast their votes for the president and vice president.
Transition normally involves some pre-election planning by the non-incumbent candidates, and involves consideration of key personnel from the outgoing and incoming presidents’ staffs, requires resources, and includes a host of activities, such as vetting candidates for positions in the new administration, helping to familiarize the incoming administration with the operations of the executive branch, and developing a comprehensive policy platform.
Presidential Transition Act
The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (Pub.L. 88–277) established the mechanisms to facilitate an orderly and peaceful transition of power, and has been amended numerous times: by the Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act of 1998 (Pub.L. 100–398), the Presidential Transition Act of 2000 (Pub.L. 106–293 (text) (pdf)), the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010 (Pub.L. 111–283 (text) (pdf)), the Presidential Transitions Improvements Act of 2015 (Pub.L. 114–136 (text) (pdf)) and the Presidential Transition Act of 2019.
Role of General Services Administration
The Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010 requires the General Services Administration (GSA) to provide potential presidential transition teams with office space, facilities, funding for transition staff, and access to government services.   For example, spending on Mitt Romney's transition team in 2012 was going to be $8.9 million, all funds appropriated by the U.S. government.
To free government funds, the GSA Administrator is required to issue an "ascertainment" letter declaring a non-incumbent candidate the "apparent winner" of an election. The declaration marks the official start of the transition, without which the winning candidate's transition team is not entitled to government funding, secure office space, equipment and access to agencies. The right to the ownership and confidentiality of emails and phone records produced by the transition team is, however, not secure as against the GSA and the government.
For much of U.S. history, presidential transitions were carried out without very much advance planning or even cooperation from the outgoing president. Legally, a president-elect is not required to come to the capital until the inauguration and need not have substantial policy or procedural discussions with the outgoing administration.
President Harry Truman adopted a positive course by extending his hand to President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower after the 1952 election, inviting Eisenhower to the White House and ordering federal agencies to assist with the transition. Eight years later, John F. Kennedy engaged in extensive transition planning on domestic and foreign policy issues, but did not meet with Eisenhower until December 6, 1960, one month after the election.
The transition process begins as leading presidential contenders forming a transition team to start making preliminary plans for building an administration and assuming the presidency should they be elected. This can take place at any time of the candidate's choosing. In 2008, the Obama presidential campaign began informally planning for a possible presidential transition several months before Election Day. Obama's transition team, called the "Obama-Biden Transition Project", analysed prior transition efforts, the workings of federal government agencies, and what priority positions needed to be filled by the incoming administration first. In April 2012, before Mitt Romney became the Republican Party nominee, the Romney presidential campaign began planning for a potential transition. Romney's transition team made extensive plans for the transfer of power, called the "Romney Readiness Project", which also included a legislative agenda for the first 200 days of a Romney administration.
During the 2016 presidential election cycle, Donald Trump began assembling his transition team in May, after he became the presumptive Republican nominee. His fall campaign opponent, Hillary Clinton, lagged behind in this regard, not forming a team until August, which was after she became the Democratic Party nominee. Key activities in this pre-election phase include: setting goals for the transition; assembling and organizing the key transition team staff; allocating responsibilities among the team and allocating resources and personnel for each core work stream; developing an overall management work plan to guide the team through the entire transition process; and establishing relationships with Congress, the outgoing administration, General Services Administration, the Office of Government Ethics, the FBI and the Office of Personnel Management to encourage information sharing and to begin the security clearance process for select personnel.
The GSA administrator officially determines the "apparent winner" of a presidential election. If it is not the incumbent president, the winner can access federal agencies and transition funds. There are no firm rules on how the GSA determines the president-elect. Typically, the GSA chief might make the decision after reliable news organizations have declared the winner or following a concession by the loser. The GSA administrator's declaration releases about $9.9 million in transition funds for salary, support, and computer systems; allow transition officials to establish government email addresses and receive federal office space; and allow the transition team to start work with the Office of Government Ethics on required financial disclosure and conflict-of-interest forms for incoming nominees. 
The actual transition phase begins immediately following the presidential election (barring any electoral disputes) when a sitting president is not re-elected or is concluding a second term. In the case of the Obama-Trump transition, on the day after the election, November 9, 2016, outgoing president Barack Obama made a statement from the Rose Garden of the White House in which he announced that he had spoken the previous evening with (apparent election winner) Donald Trump and formally invited him to the White House for discussions to ensure "that there is a successful transition between our presidencies." Obama said he had instructed his staff to "follow the example" of the George W. Bush administration in 2008, who he said could "not have been more professional or more gracious in making sure we had a smooth transition". This phase of the process lasts between 72 and 78 days, ending on the inauguration day. During this time, the transition team must handle the influx of campaign staff and additional personnel into daily operations and prepare to take over the functions of government. Key activities in this phase include staffing the office of the president-elect; deploying agency review teams; building out the president-elect's management and policy agendas and schedule; and identifying the key talent necessary to execute the new president's priorities.
It is the practice for Cabinet secretaries and high-level political appointees to tender their resignation with effect on the Inauguration Day (January 20) of a new president. The deputy secretaries are also expected to tender their resignation, but are commonly requested to stay on in an acting capacity until the confirmation by the Senate of the new secretary.
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Presidential transitions have existed in one form or another since 1797, when George Washington handed over the presidency to John Adams. Despite most going smoothly, many have been bumpy and a few verged on catastrophic.
During the 1860–61 transition from James Buchanan to Abraham Lincoln (November 6, 1860 to March 4, 1861), seven states seceded in February. Buchanan held the opinion that states did not have the right to secede, but that it was also illegal for the federal government to go to war to stop them. Buchanan peacefully transferred power to Lincoln on March 4, 1861. The American Civil War began on April 12, 1861, just a month after Lincoln took office.
In the 1876 election, there were disputes regarding 20 electoral votes in four states, along with multiple allegations of electoral fraud. This made it unclear who would take the office of president on inauguration day. This constitutional crisis was resolved only two days before the scheduled inauguration through the Compromise of 1877 under which federal troops were withdrawn from the South, and the Reconstruction Era was brought to an end.
After the election, Roosevelt refused Hoover's requests for a meeting to come up with a joint program to stop the crisis and calm investors, claiming it would limit his options, and as this "would guarantee that Roosevelt took the oath of office amid such an atmosphere of crisis that Hoover had become the most hated man in America". During this period, the U.S. economy suffered after thousands of banks failed. The relationship between Hoover and Roosevelt was one of the most strained between Presidents: while Hoover had little good to say about his successor, there was little he could do. Roosevelt, however, supposedly could - and did - engage in various spiteful official acts aimed at his predecessor, ranging from dropping him from the White House birthday greetings message list to having Hoover's name struck from the Hoover Dam along the Colorado River border, which would officially be known only as Boulder Dam until 1947.
The 2000-01 transition from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush was shortened by several weeks due to the Florida recount crisis that ended after the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Bush v. Gore which made Bush the president-elect.
Due to the recount effort and litigation between Bush and his presidential opponent Al Gore leaving the election undecided until December 12, 2000, Bush's official transition was the shortest in United States history, at just 39 days.
The 2008-09 transition from Bush to Barack Obama was considered seamless, with Bush granting Obama's request to ask Congress to release $350 billion of bank bailout funds. At the start of his inaugural speech, Obama praised Bush "for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and co-operation he has shown throughout this transition". The White House website was redesigned and “cut over” at exactly 12:01pm, January 20, 2009. This was described by some as a "new inaugural tradition spawned by the Internet-age". Additionally, the information system was provided to the Obama administration without a single electronic record from the previous administration. Not only were emails and photos removed from the environment at the 12:01pm threshold, data elements like phone numbers of individual offices and upcoming meetings for the senior staff were also removed.
Nonetheless, by April 2012, the Bush administration had transferred electronic records for the presidential components within the Executive Office of the President to the National Archives and Records Administration. Included in these records was more than 80 terabytes of data, more than 200 million emails and 4 million photos.
On the evening of November 8, 2016, the day of the presidential election, outgoing president Barack Obama spoke with presumptive winner Donald Trump and formally invited him to the White House for November 10, for discussions to ensure "that there is a successful transition between our presidencies".
Early on November 9, media outlets projected Trump would secure enough votes in the Electoral College to win the presidential election, and Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton conceded the election to him later that day. Also on November 9, GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth issued the "ascertainment letter” to officially designate Trump president-elect, and the transition team was provided office space and were also eligible for government funding for staff. Also on November 9, Trump and Mike Pence were offered the full President's Daily Brief, with the first briefing taking place on November 15. The Trump transition website was launched on November 9.
The Trump transition team was led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence and had six vice-chairs: former transition head Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Newt Gingrich, Michael Flynn, Rudy Giuliani and Jeff Sessions.
Incumbent president Donald Trump prematurely claimed victory in the 2020 presidential election on Election Day, November 3 and demanded all further vote counting cease. The president also falsely alleged widespread fraud, corruption and other misconduct, and commenced multiple lawsuits in multiple states seeking a halt to counting, rejection of votes, preventing certification of results, besides other remedies. Trump baselessly claimed that 2.7 million votes were “deleted” by the digital voting system used in some states, and said votes were switched from him to Joe Biden. Officials called the 2020 election the most secure in history and officials from all fifty states refuted claims of fraud.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden became generally acknowledged as the president-elect on November 7, 2020. The GSA Administrator, Emily Murphy, a Trump appointee, initially refused to issue the "ascertainment" letter declaring Biden the "apparent winner", on the basis that the election result was disputed. The declaration would mark the official start of the transition: withholding it denied the Biden transition team full funds, secure office space, and access to agencies. (Following the 2016 presidential election, the acting GSA administrator issued the "ascertainment" letter the next day, on November 9, 2016.) Biden had also been denied daily classified national security briefings. Further, the State Department denied access to communications from foreign leaders, leaving the Biden team to communicate through other unofficial channels. According to CBS News, "In past transitions, the State Department has facilitated the logistics of the calls and provided translation services, possible talking points, and even taken notes".
On November 23, Murphy issued the letter of ascertainment naming Biden as the “apparent winner”, making funds available for him towards the transition, although Trump had still not conceded.
After pro-Trump protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, Trump offered a statement that "My focus now turns to a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power", although he continued to reiterate his false claims of widespread fraud and irregularities.
President Trump did not attend the Inauguration of Joe Biden, which made him the first president not to attend the inauguration of his elected successor since Andrew Johnson in 1869. Vice President Mike Pence did attend Joe Biden's inauguration.
List of presidential transitions
- Contingent election, procedure used in U.S. presidential elections in cases where no candidate wins an absolute majority of votes in the Electoral College
- Midnight regulations, rules created by an outgoing administration before it leaves office
- Former Presidents Act
- "Presidential Transition Act of 1963". U.S. General Services Administration. March 7, 1964. Retrieved January 12, 2017. This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the General Services Administration.
- MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES}
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- GSA, Plum Book
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- Karni, Annie (August 16, 2016). "Salazar to lead Clinton's transition team". Politico. Retrieved January 9, 2017.
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- Rudney, Robert. "Lessons Learned from the 1932–1933 Presidential Transition". www.commondreams.org. Retrieved October 30, 2008.
- "The George W. Bush transition to power • Center for Presidential Transition". Center for Presidential Transition. July 6, 2020. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
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- Bublé, Courtney (November 13, 2020). "Former GSA Administrator Reflects on Ascertaining the Election in 2016". Government Executive. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
- Shear, Michael D.; Haberman, Maggie; Crowley, Michael (November 10, 2020). "Trump Appointee Stands Between Biden's Team and a Smooth Transition". New York Times.
- "The Latest: FAA imposes restrictions over Trump Tower". WKOW-TV. November 9, 2016. Archived from the original on November 10, 2016. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
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- Thrush, Glenn; Nelson, Louis (November 11, 2016). "Pence to take over Trump's transition effort from Christie". Politico. Retrieved November 12, 2016.
- Trump lawyers suffered multiple rebukes from judges over voter fraud claims
- Trump claims millions of his votes were ‘deleted’ by election system
- 'Most secure in history': Security agencies refute Trump's election fraud claims
- Epstein, Jennifer (November 10, 2020). "Biden Transition Team Calls on Federal Agency to Declare Winner". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on November 18, 2020. Retrieved November 18, 2020.
Biden was declared the winner by media organizations after securing enough electoral votes.
- Budryk, Zack (November 9, 2020). "Biden campaign pushes GSA chief to approve transition". The Hill. Archived from the original on November 19, 2020. Retrieved November 18, 2020.
Major media outlets projected Biden as the president-elect Saturday.
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But 13 days after the 2020 election and more than a week after all major media outlets called the race for Joe Biden, with Trump having absolutely no chance of getting a second term, Murphy has refused to acknowledge that Biden won, making it that much more difficult for the president-elect and his team to get a head start on crucial matters like a pandemic that has killed more than 245,000 people in the U.S. so far and stands to kill a lot more if no one does anything about it until January 2021.
- Young, Robin (November 9, 2020). "In Unprecedented Move, Key Federal Agency Hesitates On Declaring Biden Winner". WBUG.org. Archived from the original on November 9, 2020. Retrieved November 18, 2020.
The answer is no, and I think you rightly note that this is different than what occurred in 2000 [in the Al Gore vs. George W. Bush race], there is a consensus certainly on the media side and with the states that are at play.
- Coleman, Justine (November 12, 2020). "State Department won't give Biden messages from foreign leaders: report". www.msn.com. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
- "No State Dept role in Biden congratulatory calls with foreign leaders". www.msn.com. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
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- Garrison, Joey (January 8, 2021). "A president hasn't refused to attend the inauguration of his successor in 152 years. Donald Trump will change that". USA Today. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
- Haberman, Maggie (January 9, 2021). "Pence plans to attend Biden's inauguration". The New York Times. Retrieved January 10, 2021.
- "Presidential Transition Act: Provisions and Funding". Congressional Research Service. November 13, 2020.