Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said his department has not yet begun any transition work related to the projected election of Joe Biden as the next president, but he isn’t worried delays in that effort will disrupt any service to veterans in coming months.
“It’s not going to hurt operations,” Wilkie said in an interview with Military Times on Monday. “We’ve got too many professionals (working at VA). I would hope, if (a presidential transition) does happen, that they would continue with the policies and the reforms that we put in.”
On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that the General Services Administration has thus far refused to sign any paperwork officially beginning the transition process, in response to President Donald Trump’s ongoing legal challenges to the vote counts in multiple states.
Wilkie said his office will not have a formal response or role until that move is made. “And we don’t have that yet.”
The legal wrangling over the results of the election are likely to complicate a host of issues surrounding the transfer of power from Trump to Biden.
Trump campaign officials have alleged — without providing proof thus far — that widespread voting improprieties resulted in voting swings of tens of thousands of votes in at least five states. Biden campaign officials, meanwhile, have begun naming transition officials and vowing to press ahead with their work regardless of any federal roadblocks.
The next presidential inauguration is scheduled for 73 days from today. Past political officials have said the time frame between the election and the inauguration date allowed for the authority transfers is hectic and difficult, even without any legal fights and or a lack of cooperation.
The effort includes setting the groundwork for policy changes and program priorities — Biden has said he wants to expand resources and financial support for veterans caregivers, for example — but also more mundane work like setting up email accounts for new appointees and allowing them access into legacy VA computer systems.
It also involves clarifying the new chain of command for the 400,000-plus VA employees as some managers transition out of their posts and are replaced by Biden’s picks.
Despite the post-election uncertainty, Wilkie said he is confident that veterans using VA services won’t see any negative effects in coming months.
“We’re a health care organization. Politics doesn’t enter into whether you come into VA to get medical care,” he said.
“Those folks out in the fields are not political. I don’t have one political in charge of any network, and not one political in charge of any hospital. These are career people.”
Biden campaign officials said they expect to name a host of potential new nominees for key administration jobs — including posts at the Department of Veterans Affairs — in the next few weeks.
When pressed on whether the Biden victory was valid, or if he would be open to working under Biden in a transition role for the department, Wilkie declined a direct answer.
“Right now, I’ve just got to make sure this place is running properly,” Wilkie said. “I’m committed to that and I’ll let other folks determine what the outcome of the election is.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.