Washington: Advisers to President-elect Joe Biden said Tuesday that the Trump administration’s refusal to allow the transition team access to government facilities and information could hamper their efforts to quickly contain the coronavirus pandemic after Biden takes office in January.
“Many parts of President-elect Biden’s Covid plan are going to require working closely with the current administration to make sure we have the best possible plan in place,” said former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, one of the co-chairs of Biden’s coronavirus task force. “There is valuable information inside the administration.”
The U.S. General Services Administration has refused to ascertain that Biden won the presidential election, a move which would give the Biden team access to federal agencies and their resources. As a result, Biden’s advisers are relying on publicly available information like the Covid Tracking Project to devise their plans.
If the GSA officially started the transition, Biden advisers would get up-to-date data on coronavirus cases, insight into how the administration is planning to distribute a vaccine and information about the national stockpile and other critical supplies. Beyond the detailed information, the advisers said it is necessary to begin working with the career officials in the health agencies that will stay on and serve in the Biden administration.
On a call with reporters, the co-chairs of Biden’s task force underscored the dangerous rise in the number of Covid cases across the country and the urgent need for collaboration with federal agencies to ensure a smooth transition of power. In particular, David Kessler, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, warned that a lack of access will impede the Biden administration’s ability to distribute a coronavirus vaccine.
“There is all the world of a difference between a vaccine and a vaccination,” Kessler said. “We need to be allowed to immediately begin work with our colleagues.”
He added that the process of distributing a vaccine to all Americans is a “daunting challenge under the best circumstances” and the delay could complicate the Biden team’s effort.
Earlier on Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar downplayed the likelihood that the delay in transition activities would impact distribution.
“The distribution planning is being done by career officials at CDC, on Operation Warp Speed, at the Defense Department, these are people whose roles don’t change,” Azar said in a Bloomberg Radio interview. “I don’t think anything is at risk from potential government transitions here.”
But Biden’s advisers said the lack of access to federal agencies is impacting a wide array of transition activities. Murthy mentioned the lack of access to government data affects Biden’s ability to plan federal guidance for businesses and schools, and Marcella Nunez-Smith highlighted the difficulties in assessing the level of supplies in the national stockpile and plans to ensure critical equipment is available.
“We need to work with the current administration immediately to coordinate on planning,” she said. “We need to shore up supply chains. We need to make sure again we do not again face shortages.” –Bloomberg