US President George W. Bush and president-elect Barack Obama walk through the colonnade November 10, 2008 to the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images
Twelve years ago, during another presidential transition, the American economy was on the verge of collapse. Millions were at risk of evictions, demand was surging for FHA mortgages, and small business failures continued to mount.
The collaboration between the outgoing President George W. Bush and incoming President Barack Obama administrations was essential for the nation to turn the corner in 2009. That same collaboration should be occurring today in the midst of a deadly pandemic and a historic economic downturn.
Before Bush left office, he demanded that every Cabinet and agency leader implement an exceptional and apolitical transition plan to ensure a smooth handoff to a new administration. As the Housing and Urban Development secretary and the prior administrator of the Small Business Administration, my first priority was ensuring that Obama and his team understood the information we had, the programs in place and the resources that would be available on Inauguration Day to help the American people through the devastating crisis.
While the two administrations had many differing views, we facilitated the smooth transition of power to ensure that people kept their homes and that small businesses could stay in business.
Small businesses, homeowners, renters and nonprofits will again require significant support from the next administration and the next Congress.
To be effective, President-elect Joe Biden and his team must have the opportunity to learn from the SBA’s successes and mistakes over the past year, and understand what HUD can do to help those who cannot pay their rent and mortgages – and to assist landlords who find themselves on the financial edge. Enabling them to do so does not mitigate the current president’s right or ability to raise legal challenges to the election.
If the lame-duck Congress decides to provide additional support to businesses, nonprofits and individuals and extend assistance under the CARES Act passed earlier this year — and they should — the American people will benefit if the Biden team can prepare to come into office and hit the ground running.
Through the CARES Act, the SBA this year issued more than five million loans to American businesses and nonprofit organizations — more than 80 times the approximately 63,000 loans they issued in 2019. Over the next weeks and months, the SBA will be flooded with requests for loan forgiveness and potentially new loans. Evaluating and responding to those requests requires careful audits and reviews. When a new administration team walks in the door, they should be aware of any bottlenecks that exist and have plans in place to address them. None of this is possible if the formal transition does not begin now.
The chaos surrounding a delayed transition has a negative impact on individuals as well. Today, most small businesses and many nonprofits have less than 30 days’ cash on hand and backlogged expenses. Continuing to meet their needs will take time, and every day in a transition counts. If this doesn’t happen, small business owners and their employees will suffer.
In addition, moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures are set to expire by the end of the year. Millions of eviction notices could be filed by Jan. 1 if protections are not extended.
We cannot allow the handoff to the new administration be fumbled.
The incoming team needs access to the data collected by HUD and the SBA to make responsible decisions about the best ways to address these issues. They also need access to the career experts at both agencies.
I would never have thought that an effective transition could be more important than that of 2008-09, but here we are.
If the new administration enters office without being properly prepared, the American people will suffer. Perhaps most importantly, the Americans who will suffer the most will be among some of the most vulnerable in society as well as those who are the drivers of our economy. To protect these individuals and for the economy to recover as quickly as possible, the formal presidential transition must start today.
Steven C. Preston is president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International and served as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and as administrator of the Small Business Administration during the George W. Bush administration.