GSA's Murphy releases transition funds to Biden

GSA administrator Emily Murphy testifies before a House panel on Feb 15 2018 

GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, shown here at a 2018 congressional hearing, on Nov. 23 formally ascertained Joe Biden to be the apparent winner of the 2020 presidential election.

More than two weeks after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election by the Associated Press, the General Services Administration is releasing $7.3 million in transition funding and making other resources available to the president-elect's team.

Under the law governing presidential transitions, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy is responsible for making an "ascertainment" of the winner based on publicly available information in advance of the certification of official results from states and in advance of the actual Electoral College vote. This ministerial authority allows for the incoming administration to set up shop inside agencies, communicate with federal officials and use federal computer networks and cybersecurity resources.

Murphy had come under fire from the Biden campaign, congressional Democrats and even some Republicans for not moving faster to release the transition resources, and she was accused of bowing to pressure from President Donald Trump, who has not conceded his election loss and who is pursuing increasingly quixotic legal battles in an effort to overturn election results.

"Contrary to media reports and insinuations, my decision was not made out of fear or favoritism," Murphy wrote in a letter addressed to Biden and released by GSA's Office of Strategic Communication. "Instead, I strongly believe that the statute requires that the GSA Administrator ascertain, not impose, the apparent president-elect. Unfortunately, the statute provides no procedures or standards for this process, so I looked to precedent from prior elections involving legal challenges and incomplete counts. "

Trump, however, took some responsibility for the move. In a series of tweets he stated his intention to continue to contest the results of the election but stated that, "in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same."

Murphy indicated the timing of the move was dictated by "recent developments involving legal challenges and certification of election results," which is likely a reference to the failure of Trump's legal team to challenge the results of the Pennsylvania vote and the certification of election results by Michigan.

In her letter, Murphy stated she, her family, staff and her pets were subjected to threats "in an effort to coerce me into making this decision prematurely."

Murphy also noted that there are gaps in how the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 and its amendments are meant to function, and GSA is poorly situated to be the agency with the authority to set presidential transitions in motion.

"I do not think that an agency charted with improving federal procurement and property management should place itself above the constitutionally-based election process. I strongly urge Congress to consider amendments to the Act," she wrote.

The move came after statements from lawmakers urging ascertainment have grown increasingly heated.

In the same hour that Murphy's letter to Biden was released by GSA, House Majority Whip Rep James Clyburn (D-S.C.) stated that the refusal to release transition funds would lead to preventable COVID-19 deaths.

"Your refusal to follow the law when the winner is so clearly apparent would be a threat to American constitutional democracy under any circumstances, but you’re your refusal to do so at the height of a pandemic that has already killed more than 250,000 Americans is a direct threat to American lives," Clyburn wrote.

Early comments from lawmakers suggest that members may not be in a forgiving mood about what they see as a long-delayed decision.

"It should not have taken the ire of Congress and the American public to convince Administrator Murphy to do the right thing," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the chairman of the Government Operations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. "Her actions were dangerous and Congress must ensure it never happens again. Now that she has belatedly begun the transition, I urge GSA to work expeditiously to make sure the Biden team has the resources to which they are entitled."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


  • Government Innovation Awards
    Government Innovation Awards -

    Congratulations to the 2021 Rising Stars

    These early-career leaders already are having an outsized impact on government IT.

  • Acquisition
    Shutterstock ID 169474442 By Maxx-Studio

    The growing importance of GWACs

    One of the government's most popular methods for buying emerging technologies and critical IT services faces significant challenges in an ever-changing marketplace

Stay Connected