“Our DoD political and career officials have been working with the utmost professionalism to support transition activities in a compressed time schedule and they will continue to do so in a transparent and collegial manner that upholds the finest traditions of the Department,” Miller said.
Biden’s comments reignited tensions with the Pentagon just over a week after defense officials abruptly canceled a series of meetings with the transition that had been scheduled for Dec. 18. Defense officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the two sides had agreed on a two-week holiday pause and that the meetings would resume in the new year, but the Biden transition executive director, Yohannes Abraham, rebutted that claim.
But Biden on Monday said what he sees as foot-dragging on the part of the Trump administration is particularly galling in light of the recently disclosed massive cyberattack that hit much of the federal government and other global threats. Biden also said the Christmas Day bombing in Nashville, Tenn., underscored the importance of the issue.
“We need to make sure that nothing is lost in the handoff between administrations,” the president-elect said. “We need full visibility into the budget planning underway at the Defense Department and other agencies in order to avoid any window of confusion or catch-up that our adversaries may try to exploit.”
Biden reiterated concerns that the Pentagon’s political leadership, made up of newly installed Trump loyalists, is obstructing the normal transition process. In particular, Biden said his team needed “full visibility” into the Pentagon’s budget planning, noting that adversaries might look to exploit a “window of confusion” during the change of administrations.
“We have encountered roadblocks from the political leadership at the Department of Defense and the Office of Management and Budget,” he said.
The Pentagon has continued to “deny and delay” meetings with Biden’s agency review team members, a transition official told POLITICO on Monday after the president-elect’s remarks, noting that the two sides had made “no substantial progress” since the issue first came to light.
“As the President-elect alluded to, no Department is more pivotal to our national security than the Department of Defense, and an unwillingness to work together could have consequences well beyond January 20th,” the official said.
Pentagon spokesperson Sue Gough pushed back strongly, saying DOD has been “completely transparent” with the transition team about the upcoming budget, and has even provided top-line information about the fiscal 2022-2026 program. OMB has not yet authorized the department to release the full details of the five-year program, she said.
The department has three meetings with the Biden team scheduled so far this week: two related to Covid-19, and one on cybersecurity, Miller said in the statement.
But DOD has not held a meeting with the transition team since Dec. 18, according to a source familiar with the discussions. Of the three meetings on the books for this week, one was added Monday and two others were approved on the evening of Dec. 23. And the person said the Pentagon continues to delay other requested meetings.
Biden on Monday made a point to differentiate the chilly reception his team has received from officials at the Pentagon, and to a lesser extent OMB, from other parts of the federal government apparatus.
“For some agencies, our teams received exemplary cooperation from the career staff in those agencies,” Biden said. “From others — most notably the Department of Defense — we encountered obstruction from the political leadership of that department.”
The president-elect has recently stepped up his criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of the transfer of power, which has been complicated by the outgoing president’s refusal to accept his electoral defeat to Biden and his legally dubious attempts to stay in office by subverting the will of the American electorate.
Some administration officials, wary of repercussions from the president or his loyalists, have been wary of seeming too eager to assist with the transfer of power and have at times received contradictory messages from the White House about preparing for the end stages of the current administration.
Biden also seemed to try to manage expectations of what his administration would be able to do from the get-go in unwinding policies initiated under Trump, including on immigration and America’s role on the international stage.
“These are hard issues, and the current administration has made them much harder by working to erode our capacity,” Biden said. “It’s going to take time to rebuild that capacity.”
He said the U.S. would have to repair relationships with other countries that were strained under Trump’s America First philosophy, but that doing so was necessary to counter China’s growing political influence abroad.
“We’re stronger and more effective when we’re flanked by nations that share our vision of the future of our world,” Biden said. “That’s how we multiply the impact of our efforts and make the efforts more sustainable.”