President-elect Joe Biden said Monday his transition team had encountered “roadblocks” and “obstacles” among the heads of the Trump administration at key agencies, hampering the new administration’s efforts to prepare for the presidency.
But one of those agency chiefs, incumbent Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, pushed back Biden’s criticism and highlighted the recent dispute between President Donald Trump’s Pentagon and the President-elect.
“The truth is that many of the agencies that are vital to our security have suffered tremendous damage,” Biden said during a speech in Delaware following a briefing by his national security and foreign affairs agency review teams.
“Many of them have been eroded in terms of human resources, capacity and morale. Political processes have stunted or shut down,” he said.
Biden, who is slated to take office in less than a month, highlighted the Ministry of Defense and the Office of Administration and Budget in his speech.
“Our team has received exemplary cooperation from several agencies,” said Biden. “We have encountered obstacles from the political leadership of that ministry from others, particularly the Ministry of Defense.”
He later added, “We have encountered obstacles from the political leadership in the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Administration and Budget. Right now we are simply not getting all of the information we need from the outgoing administration for key national security areas.”
“In my opinion, it’s nothing less than irresponsibility,” said Biden.
In a statement later Monday, incumbent defense chief Miller defended his agency’s coordination with Biden’s team.
“The Department of Defense conducted 164 interviews with over 400 officials and provided over 5,000 pages of documents – far more than originally requested by Biden’s transition team,” Miller’s statement said.
Included in this statement is a bulleted list of “transition facts” which indicates that all interviews with the transition team are being conducted for the first time in practical light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The agency’s efforts “are already outperforming the youngest administrations in more than three weeks,” said Miller, “and we continue to plan additional meetings for the remainder of the transition and respond to any requests for information in our area of responsibility.”
Department of Defense officials, the statement added, “have worked with the utmost professionalism to support transition activities on a compressed schedule and they will continue to do so in a transparent and collegial manner that upholds the best traditions of the department. The American people expect nothing less and that’s what I’m still committed to. “
The Bureau of Administration and Housekeeping did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.
Biden applauded his agency review teams for doing “an excellent job” despite the pandemic and delays in receiving federal funding from Trump’s General Services Administration. Those obstacles came when the president refused to allow Biden and his electoral team and others continued their efforts to overturn the elections.
An urgent concern, said Biden, is “to ensure that nothing is lost in the handover between the administrations”.
“We need a comprehensive look at the current budget planning of the Department of Defense and other agencies in order to avoid confusion and pent-up demand that our opponents may be trying to exploit.”
While the president-elect’s remarks were among his most critical of the Trump administration from the Wilmington lectern, they were not the first instance of Biden’s struggles with Trump’s Department of Defense.
Tensions between the Pentagon and Biden’s team became public earlier this month over Miller’s decision to cancel meetings with the Transition team for the rest of the year.
Miller said in a statement that there was “a mutually agreed vacation break” but a Biden spokesman replied that no such agreement had been reached.
“Let me be clear: there was no mutually agreed vacation break,” transition spokesman Yohannes Abraham told reporters.
It was weeks after the election when defense officials confirmed that the transition process within the Pentagon had begun.
“The first meeting today was via videoconference. It was a good, productive meeting and we set some ground rules,” said Tom Muir, director of Washington Headquarters Services, during a Pentagon briefing on November 24th.
“They look forward to participating in discussions here at the Pentagon,” added Muir, who will facilitate the transition process.
Muir said at the time that the Biden team will have dedicated office space in the Pentagon and reasonable access to information.