Federal workers say they're in a 'twilight zone' where Trump officials are stonewalling Joe Biden's transition team and refusing to publicly acknowledge his win

  • President Donald Trump and some of his top allies reluctantly launched a transition to the Biden administration even as they refuse to say that Biden won.
  • That makes for a weird transition, and some career government workers haven't heard anything from their Trump-appointed bosses about the fact that the government is about to change hands.
  • "It is still this twilight zone mentality where everybody knows … that on January 20th it's going to be President Biden," a senior government employee told Insider this week.
  • The Biden transition team is also publicly sparring with Trump officials at the Pentagon over access.
  • The executive director of Biden's transition team told reporters Friday there have been "pockets of recalcitrance" within the Pentagon and other agencies have also been "less cooperative" than others. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

It's complicated to execute a government handover when the sitting president hasn't admitted he lost the race. 

In just over a month, President Donald Trump and his team must hand the entire executive branch over to President-elect Joe Biden.

But government officials working within some of those agencies still haven't heard a thing about it from their Trump-appointed bosses. 

"It is so weird," a senior government employee told Insider this week. "It is still this twilight zone mentality where everybody knows, including all of the political leaders, that on January 20th it's going to be President Biden. … But the term Biden-Harris is not coming out of the mouths of any politicals." 

The presidential transition formally kicked off on November 24, two weeks after major media outlets projected Biden to win the presidential election. Trump reluctantly endorsed the transition in late November, even as he continued to claim that he would prevail in lawsuits challenging the election results. 

Meanwhile, Trump still hasn't conceded the race to Biden, even after the vote was certified by the electoral college earlier this month. Trump lost a string of last-ditch legal challenges, including a high-profile rejection from the Supreme Court that includes three of his appointees. 

Trump 'resistance' to the Biden transition

Not everything is going smoothly. 

A public fight broke out Friday between the Biden team and the Trump administration over transition officials' access to the Pentagon. The transition's Executive Director Yohannes Abraham told reporters that Biden's team had met "isolated resistance" from political appointees within the Defense Department. 

Trump's Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller ordered the Pentagon to pause cooperation with the Biden transition, Axios reported earlier on Friday. 

Miller told Insider in a statement Friday that there had been a "mutually-agreed upon holiday pause" and that the department planned to reschedule about 20 transition interviews with 40 officials until after January 1.

Abraham contradicted that claim Friday in a call with reporters, saying that the Biden team hadn't agreed to a holiday break. He added that there were "pockets of recalcitrance" in the Pentagon and suggested other agency officials were stonewalling them as well. 

"There have been many agencies and departments that have been willing participants in a smooth transition," he said. But there "have been places like DOD that have been less cooperative, as we've seen over the last 48 hours." He declined to say which other agencies had been reluctant to cooperate. 

White House spokesman Judd Deere declined to comment on what guidance, if any, the White House has given to agencies about working with Biden's transition team. 

Several federal agencies contacted by Insider this week touted their cooperation with the Biden team. 

Miller at DOD said he is working toward a "flawless transition." Interior Department spokesman Ben Goldey said the agency intends to comply with "all requirements under the law." EPA spokesman James Hewitt said that agency has conducted more than 50 briefings with Biden's team and handed over thousands of documents. And a spokesperson for the Department of Housing and Urban Development said the Biden transition team has met with everyone they've asked to speak with. 

At the Department of Veterans Affairs, Acting Deputy Secretary Pamela Powers sent a message to staff on November 30 pledging to "support an orderly transition to the next Administration."

'There's no discussion at all' 

Even as some Trump officials prepare for a Biden administration, many of them still aren't discussing it with agency workforces, many of which employ thousands of civil servants who are about to get new bosses. 

Inside government agencies, career officials who will stay on after Trump's political leaders exit federal agencies on January 20 say they've still heard nothing about the massive changeover that's about to take place. 

"It is really strange that there's no discussion at all," said a career employee at the Small Business Administration. 

That person says there has been no written or verbal communication to the civil servants at the agency that Trump officials will soon exit. There's no discussion of policies beyond what happens in January, either. 

"They keep pretending that the sky has not already fallen," a career official at the US Environmental Protection Agency told Insider this week. That person said there has been no acknowledgement from political leadership at the agency that Biden won the election and that career staff will be getting new management and new priorities next month. 

By contrast, back on November 9, 2016 — the day after Trump won the presidential election — then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy sent an all-staff email telling employees that she wanted a "seamless transition," E&E News reported at the time. 

The Obama administration issued a fact sheet on November 10 of that year titled "Facilitating a smooth transition to the next administration." 

The closest Trump has come to that was a tweet on November 23, when he offered his lukewarm support for the Biden transition to launch. 

"I believe we will prevail!," Trump tweeted then. "Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country," he added, he was recommending that the General Services Administration "do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same."

Trump recently told some of his aides that he might refuse to budge from the White House on Inauguration Day, CNN reported. But his political staffers are preparing for their own departures, even if they're not talking about it publicly.

The mixed messaging from the White House isn't stopping political appointees from looking for jobs elsewhere next year, an administration source told Insider. 

Outgoing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is one Trump official who has acknowledged that she's leaving in talks with her department's staff. DeVos urged the career staff at the department to "be the resistance" against Biden's education policies after he's sworn in, according to a recording obtained by Politico.

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