2020 Election SparksFederal Bureaucracy

2020 Elections & Bureaucracy: The Delayed Transition

Posted on in 2020 Election Sparks · Federal Bureaucracy

A transition to a new presidential administration is a unique moment of vulnerability for our country. The President-elect selects roughly 4,000 presidential appointments during the transition that compose the upper management of the Federal Bureaucracy. The General Services Administration Administrator, in accordance with the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, provides services and facilities to each President-elect for use in preparing to assume their official duties.

In most of the world’s democracies, the pieces of a newly elected government are already in place in the form of a shadow cabinet whose members have been serving as the government’s loyal opposition. When a new leader takes office, members of the new cabinet are immediately available. In the United States, however, a newly elected president must quickly put together his government, choosing thousands of private citizens to serve in his administration.

A presidential transition means that the entire top management of the federal government is replaced over a 3-month period. Considering the size of the U.S. government, the importance of its responsibilities, transitions are always difficult. The stakes could not be higher this year – as our next president will face the mammoth challenges of tackling an economic crisis, a health crisis, a political crisis and a social justice crisis.

The new president’s first challenge, between election day and inauguration day, is to select some 30 people to serve in his cabinet and as his top White House staff. The cabinet includes the secretaries of the 14 executive departments plus an assortment of other top jobs, such as the U.S. trade representative, EPA administrator and Ambassadors.  The White House staff includes the chief of staff, the national security adviser, counsel, press secretary, and the top economic and domestic policy aides.

Instructors, click the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt and a debate question as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for “The Delayed Transition"


“First on CNN: Key government agency acknowledges Biden’s win and begins formal transition”

“How 2020’s “unusual” presidential transition compares to past transfers of power”

“Tensions flare between Pentagon, Biden team over transition meetings”

“Why You Don’t Mess Around With Presidential Transitions”

“Will the 2020 election change how presidential transitions happen?”

“Three terrible presidential transitions that hurt America”


  • Debate: The federal bureaucracy has become too unwieldy for one person to manage effectively.
  • Government functions should be reduced to make transitions simpler.
  • Poll: The GSA acted appropriately in waiting to determine Joe Biden as President-elect.
  • It is too difficult for one person to run our government.
  • Short Answer: What potential problems may arise due to the 3-week delay in the GSA recognizing Joe Biden as President-elect?

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Featured Image Credit: Andrew Neel 

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