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19 Jan 2021, 18:31 HRS IST
  • PTI
  • Head of little-known US government agency ascertains Biden as winner, lets transition begin

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18:52 HRS IST

Washington, Nov 24 (PTI) Head of a previously little-known US government agency, under pressure to let the transition proceed, has finally ascertained Joe Biden as the apparent winner of the November 3 election, more than two weeks after the Democrat triumphed over President Donald Trump

The much-awaited decision by Emily Murphy, Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA), will now enable the incoming Biden team with federal resources, access to various federal agencies and intelligence briefings

The GSA is tasked with formally beginning presidential transitions

Over the past two weeks, Murphy faced criticism from Democrats, national security experts and health officials, who argued that delaying the formal transition was hampering the incoming Biden administration's efforts to effectively respond to the raging coronavirus pandemic and jeopardising national security

But Murphy took her own time to decide, usually a routine step between the election and the inauguration

Administrator Murphy leads a staff of more than 11,200 GSA employees nationwide, overseeing more than 370 million square feet of property, approximately USD 75 billion in annual contracts, 4.9 million government credit and purchase cards, and 225,000 leased vehicles within GSA's fleet

Finally on Monday, the 47-year-old Trump political appointee wrote in her "letter of ascertainment" to Biden, 78, that the Trump administration is ready to begin the formal transition process

The letter is the first step the administration has taken to acknowledge President Trump's defeat, more than two weeks after Biden was declared the winner in the presidential election

The news came as President Trump, a Republican, who has still has not conceded the bitterly-fought White House race, tweeted he was "recommending" the GSA and others in his administration begin "initial protocols" to kick-start the formal transfer of presidential power

While Trump said he had recommended the moves, Murphy, an attorney, said she had reached the decision independently

"Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts," Murphy wrote in her letter

"I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official ? including those who work at the White House or GSA ? with regard to the substance or timing of my decision. To be clear, I did not receive any direction to delay my determination," she wrote

"Contrary to media reports and insinuations, my decision was not made out of fear or favouritism," Murphy, who took the reins of GSA in late 2017, wrote.

"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," Murphy wrote

Her decision came as Biden's election victory in the state of Michigan was officially certified on Monday, a major blow to Trump. Earlier on Friday, Georgia certified its razor-thin presidential results, declaring Biden as the winner in the key battleground state. Pennsylvania is also nearing certification of its election results, where Biden has been projected as the winner by the media

Meanwhile, the Biden team has welcomed the start of the transition process as the Democratic president-elect gears up to be sworn in on 20 January

"Today's decision is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track," said its statement

"This final decision is a definitive administrative action to formally begin the transition process with federal agencies."

The Biden team has not waited for the formal transition process to begin preparing for the presidency, as Biden announced several Cabinet picks on Monday.

But the delay in ascertainment meant that Biden's team was locked out from government data and could not make contact with federal agencies, nor could it spend USD 6.3 million in government funding now available for the transition.

A Biden official said the most urgent need was for the transition to be given access to Covid-19 data and the vaccine distribution plans

Yohannes Abraham, executive director of Biden's transition, said the start of the transition was a "needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track."

"This final decision is a definitive administrative action to formally begin the transition process with federal agencies," Abraham said.

"In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration's efforts to hollow out government agencies," Abraham said

On December 14, Biden's victory is set to be approved by the Electoral College. Biden won 306 votes compared to 232 secured by Trump. The winner in the race to the White House should get at least 270 votes out of the 538 electoral votes up for grabs.

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