US Election 2020: What is GSA ‘ascertainment’ and how does it impact Biden-Harris transition team?

For the formal commencement of presidential transition, the administrator of the federal GSA should ascertain the “apparent successful candidate” in the US elections.
By | Edited by Kunal Gaurav | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON NOV 13, 2020 07:14 PM IST
President-elect Joe Biden has already assembled transition team, responsible for ensuring a smooth transfer of power.(AP)

The transition team of US President-elect Joe Biden has hit a major roadblock since it has not received “ascertainment” from a key federal agency to formally begin the presidential transition. Biden has already assembled a group, responsible for ensuring a smooth transfer of power between the Trump-Pence administration and the incoming Biden-Harris administration. However, the team is dependent on a declaration called “ascertainment.”

Why ‘ascertainment’ is important?

For the formal commencement of presidential transition, the administrator of the federal General Services Administration (GSA) should ascertain the “apparent successful candidate” in the US elections. While the green signal from GSA is required to move forward with the preparation to handover the power, neither the Presidential Transition Act nor federal regulations, according to the Associated Press, specify the criteria to make such determination.

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Responsibilities of GSA

GSA, an executive branch, works with billions of dollars of budget to manage federal office space, procure supplies and improve the use of technology across the government. It is also responsible for providing Washington office space to the transition team and coordinating its access to federal agencies. GSA administrator, Emily Murphy, is a Trump appointee who has not provided any reason behind the delay in ascertainment.

A GSA spokesperson had earlier said in a statement that the administrator will continue to “abide by, and fulfill, all requirements under the law and adhere to prior precedent established by the Clinton Administration in 2000.”

Impact on swift transition

Once the Biden-Harris transition team gets GSA certification, they will be able to use millions of federal dollars to smoothly proceed with the transition, including around 4,000 political appointments across the government. The transition team has the responsibility to select personnel, determine policy implementation steps, and develop management agendas for federal agencies.

The Biden-Harris Transition team has already announced key members of the agency review teams (ARTs), responsible for evaluating the operations of the federal agencies. Biden is expected to soon start announcing the names of people he wants in his cabinet, including heads of all the key departments and agencies and GSA certification remains important to swiftly move forward.

(With AP inputs)

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