Biden has claimed that with three weeks until his presidential inauguration, key figures at the Pentagon and the White House Office of Management and Budget remain intransigent, refusing to cooperate with Biden’s transition team.
“Right now we just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas. It’s nothing short, in my view, of irresponsibility,” Biden told the press during Monday remarks in Wilmington, Delaware. He said he was facing “obstruction” from the “political leadership” at both institutions.
“We need full visibility into the budget planning under way at the Defense Department and other agencies in order to avoid any window of confusion or catch-up that our adversaries may try to exploit,” Biden continued.
Indeed, immediately upon assuming office on January 20, Biden will face a diplomatic crisis: the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), a nuclear weapons limitation agreement with Russia, is set to expire on February 5, and the Trump administration has done nothing to move toward renewing or extending it.
Continued Opposition by Trump
The intransigence stems from Trump’s continued refusal to concede defeat in the November 3 presidential election, which Biden carried in both the popular vote and the Electoral College. The College confirmed those results earlier this month, casting their official ballots that decide the election’s true winner - a majority of electors voted for Biden as well.
Trump has claimed Biden’s victory is illegitimate, the result of widespread voter fraud and corruption.
“A group of Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania say 200,000 more votes were counted in the 2020 Election than voters (100% went to Biden). State Representative Frank Ryan said they found troubling discrepancies after an analysis of Election Day data,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday, quoting a report by Fox News.
“Can you imagine if the Republicans stole a Presidential Election from the Democrats - All hell would break out,” he added. Twitter flagged the tweet thread as containing disputed claims about the election, in line with the company’s policy to discourage the spreading of disinformation about the election.
Only after several weeks did a trickle of US agencies begin to see the writing on the wall and unofficially recognize Biden as the winner. The all-important General Services Administration, which greases the gears of the federal bureaucracy, only began cooperating with Biden on November 24. Biden has said the intransigence has greatly frustrated his forthcoming administration’s ability to craft a COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, as well as his and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ being brought up to speed on sensitive diplomatic, military and intelligence issues in time for them to take over next month.
On December 18, acting US Defense Secretary Christopher Miller issued a statement saying the Pentagon had done nothing to obstruct the transition, but noted a “mutually-agreed upon holiday pause” on briefings would begin the next day. Miller was appointed just last month after Trump fired Mark Esper as Pentagon chief as part of a housecleaning that saw other administration figures similarly removed who had clashed with Trump prior to the election.
Biden’s campaign immediately refuted the claim. “Let me be clear: There was no mutually agreed upon holiday break,” Yohannes Abraham, executive director of Biden’s transition team, told reporters. “In fact, we think it is important that briefings and other engagements continue during this period as there’s no time to spare.”
‘Enormous Damage’ Done to Security Agencies
However, Biden noted on Monday that from what he had seen from briefings so far, four years of Trump’s administration had done “enormous damage” to agencies “critical to our security.”
“Many of them have been hollowed out in personnel, capacity and in morale,” Biden said. “All of it makes it harder for our government to protect the American people, to defend our vital interests in a world where threats are constantly evolving and our adversaries are constantly adapting.”
In January, the State Department inspector general called attention to the disastrously low morale among department staff, stemming not just from it being embroiled in one controversy after another, but also due to a 16-month hiring freeze that saw under-qualified staff being overworked in positions they shouldn’t have been filling. One survey produced by the Partnership for Public Service and the Boston Consulting Group found a nearly 9-percentage-point decline in morale over the years 2018-19.