Biden Victory Promises End to Tumultuous Four Years for Government Under Trump

lev radin/Shuttestock

The former vice president has said he will lean on and empower the federal workforce.

Former Vice President Joe Biden defeated President Trump on Saturday after an extended vote count, sending the Democratic nominee to the White House on a promise to bring order to what has often been a chaotic approach to governing in the current administration. 

Biden’s victory, which pollsters predicted but took several days to declare due to the slow counting of an onslaught of mailed-in ballots, will likely have significant and immediate impacts on federal agencies. The president-elect has often spoken of the value of public service and promised to listen to and respect experts across the government, something to which Trump has frequently demonstrated an aversion. Biden has criticized Trump for attacking the institutional guardrails that protect American democracy and vowed to boost the rolls at agencies he said Trump has “hollowed out.” 

“To call the Trump administration’s management of the federal government a fundamental misunderstanding of how it works would be generous,” Biden said earlier this year. 

The Biden team has touted its capacity to hit the ground running, pointing to a robust transition team led by longtime Biden aide and former Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del. A key 2016 law that boosted and codified transition processes is named after Kaufman due to his efforts getting it passed. The presidential transition began last November and, so far, the Trump administration has met its statutory requirements, such as designating space to the Biden campaign, establishing a White House coordinating committee and council of agency transition directors and submitting reports to Congress six months and three months ahead of the election.

How effective the transition process will be remains in question, as President Trump has frequently declined to commit to a standard transfer of power. He reiterated those sentiments since Election Day, falsely accusing Democrats of "stealing" the election.

While all major news networks and outlets have declared Biden the winner, Trump has not yet publicly conceded and has suggested he would seek to overturn the election results in court. His claims of widespread fraud, however, have been lobbed without evidence and courts have so far dismissed the charges. 

Biden, who declared Friday evening he would win the election, has said he consistently leaned on and learned from career federal employees throughout his time as a senator and vice president, vowing to again depend on their expertise as president. 

“A strong, healthy, supported federal workforce is essential to the success of any administration, and as president, I will not be able to do my job without them,” he said earlier this year. 

He called federal employees “the most talented, hard-working and inspiring people I have ever met.” 

“I personally benefited from their expertise and professionalism as vice president, and we need more of them,” he said.

In a recent series of interviews, former aides, colleagues and observers described Biden to Government Executive as a problem solver who solicits and listens to advice, maintains a loyal following of staff while tapping into networks he has spent years building and demands accountability. He respects subject matter experts, they said, including civil servants. In criticizing Trump's approach, especially as it related to his response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Biden has promised to listen to and empower career experts in government. 

As a lifelong politician, Biden will enter the Oval Office with vast experience in government and a familiarity with its innerworkings. While Biden's experience has occasionally led him to support policies over his long career he has since called mistakes, he will assume his job as president with a greater depth of understanding of what the job entails than most of his recent predecessors. Coming off four years of Trump chastising them for belonging to the “Deep State,” Biden’s presidency will mark a dramatic reversal—in rhetoric and likely in substance—for federal agencies.

Perhaps top of mind for Biden for government management upon taking office will be how to handle an executive order Trump signed last month that gives federal agencies broad discretion to convert career employees and positions to at-will, political jobs. Trump could use the next few months to either cobble together a list of federal workers to fire en masse, or to install his own appointees into agencies even after his departure. Agencies have until Jan. 19—one day before Biden’s inauguration—to announce their initial lists of jobs that will now fall under the new Schedule F. Because the new schedule was created by executive order, Biden could simply reverse it with an order of his own.    

For a full analysis of what Biden’s presidency will mean for federal agencies and their employees, read our profile from September.

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