How the presidential transition between Trump and Biden will work

DONALD J. MIHALEK
·4 min read

Now that the 2020 campaign is over and President-elect Joe Biden has secured enough electoral college votes to become the next president of the United States, the hard work of forming a government begins. In the short sprint from Election Day to Inauguration Day, there is a mountain of work to be done in order to transition from one president to the next.

Keeping both the incoming president-elect and outgoing president safe is the most critical aspect of the presidential transition, as the Secret Service ensures they are able to do their jobs. While the Secret Service provides protection to both the incumbent president and the other candidates during an election, once the president-elect is named, that protective umbrella expands and becomes more intricate.

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That Secret Service enhancement typically begins with the director or a designee meeting with the president-elect, vice president-elect and sometimes their families to cover any questions and concerns. Part of this meeting involves a briefing focused on what they may face, including everything from intensive media scrutiny to threats from terror organizations. These briefings are highly sensitive due to the impact of Secret Service protection on family members; Secret Service protection includes 24-hour staffing, monitoring and tracking.

However, family members may choose to decline a Secret Service detail, as Donald Trump Jr. did for a short period of time in the fall of 2017. Under 18 U.S. Code 3056, only the president-elect and vice president-elect are required to maintain protection.

PHOTO: Secret Service agents stand by as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden addresses the nation at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del., Nov. 6, 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: Secret Service agents stand by as Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden addresses the nation at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del., Nov. 6, 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images, FILE)

The president-elect and his team must also undergo a myriad of briefings about every facet of the nation’s policy and operations. This includes the President’s Daily Briefing (PDB), which becomes available to the president-elect, and background briefings on covert actions. The PDB and covert briefings are led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, and help bring the incoming administration up to speed on the world’s political dynamics, potential threats and other details a president needs to know to keep the nation safe.

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In an interview for the Center for Presidential Transition’s podcast, Michael Morell, the former acting and deputy director of the CIA and President George W. Bush’s daily intelligence briefer, said the briefings are important “because on Inauguration Day, these covert actions will become the new president’s.” For most incoming administrations, this is when the real weight of the presidency sinks in. While a campaign can be full of rhetoric and bombast, the issues occurring in the world often temper talking points.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden is surrounded by secret service agents as he exits a local theatre after participating in a virtual town hall meeting in Wilmington, Del., Oct. 3, 2020. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden is surrounded by secret service agents as he exits a local theatre after participating in a virtual town hall meeting in Wilmington, Del., Oct. 3, 2020. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images, FILE)

While the physical security is increasing and intelligence briefings are taking place, under the Presidential Transition Act, the president-elect is also given assistance from the General Services Administration (GSA) as they prepare to assume office. The GSA helps with much of the logistics of an incoming administration, including identifying transitional office space and selecting a moving company to help move the incoming president into the White House, and pays for expenses that are incurred during a presidential transition.

An incoming administration also forms a transition team, which must help identify candidates for around 4,000 political appointment positions, of which about 1,200 require Senate confirmation, according to the Center for Presidential Transition. The details of these positions are listed in what is commonly called the Plum Book, which is published by the GSA. The book also lays out the name of all the employees holding those positions in the current administration.

Meanwhile, the president-elect typically also has a meeting with the current president at the White House, while the First Lady greets the incoming First Lady. Part of this meeting is formalities, the other is for logistics. The president-elect and spouse receive a tour of the White House and are asked a myriad of questions related to White House decor, functions, likes and dislikes. While they do that, staff members of the current and incoming administration are talking and meeting to try to create as seamless a transfer as possible.

PHOTO: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris  and President-elect Joe Biden stand onstage after being declared the winners of the presidential election in Wilmington, Del., November 7, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/Pool via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and President-elect Joe Biden stand onstage after being declared the winners of the presidential election in Wilmington, Del., November 7, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/Pool via Getty Images)

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The next time the president-elect typically sees the White House is on Inauguration Day where, in a 12-hour marathon, the White House staff will move the current president out and new president in, with a occupancy time of 12:01 p.m.

Donald J. Mihalek is an ABC News contributor, retired senior Secret Service agent and regional field training instructor who served during two presidential transitions. He was also a police officer and in the US Coast Guard. Opinions expressed in this piece do not reflect those of ABC News.

This report was featured in the Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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