Joe Biden transition team to limit use of federal office space

c presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden boards a plane at Allegheny County Airport on August 31, 2020 in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania.

Alex Wong | Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s team is now eligible for something every presidential campaign gets at this time of an election year — federal office space and government resources.

The only problem is they will largely be unable to use it, due to the coronavirus.

Sept. 1 marks the beginning of a new phase of the presidential transition effort that is quietly taking place behind a backdrop of bitter political warfare between Biden and President Donald Trump. The Democrat’s team is now eligible for office space at the Commerce Department in Washington and a government supported IT network.

As of Tuesday, the Biden team also receives funding and the right to process security clearances for transition officials. They also become ex-officio members of the two executive branch transition committees — one at the White House and one with Cabinet agencies. 

It’s all part of a larger, legally mandated presidential transition effort designed to ensure that no matter who wins in November, the incoming government will have plenty of time and resources to be effective on Inauguration Day in January. The Trump administration is also involved in the transition effort, given the expectation that there will be a large amount of staff turnover ahead of a potential second term for the president.

But the virus is getting in the way of the carefully laid plans.

“Like many organizations around the country, the Biden transition team will continue to do our work remotely. While we have access to GSA space, the number of staff needed inside the office will be limited,” a Biden transition spokesman told CNBC. “A portion of our work is dedicated to ensuring continuity of government across all federal agencies, including the handling of sensitive information which may require socially distant interaction. Our team is following the direction of public health experts and medical professionals to develop a plan to keep our staff and their families safe.”

A Trump transition official declined to comment.

The overall transition effort is overseen by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition, which works with teams representing both candidates to develop plans to understand and staff up an enormously complicated federal government.

Despite the bitter intensity of the presidential campaign, the non-partisan officials say things behind the scenes are going smoothly.

“So far, so good,” said David Marchick, director for the Center for Presidential Transition. “The three major players — the Trump White House, the career officials in the agencies and the Biden team — are all taking their transition work very seriously. This will be the most important transition since 1932 given the United States simultaneously face economic, health and social justice crises.”

Marchick said he does not underestimate the scale of the challenge ahead for transition officials on both sides. “A transition to a first or second term is a huge undertaking in a normal election year. This year, the degree of difficulty is many times greater.” 

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