Emily Murphy is a 47 year old Missouri-born lawyer who is the Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA). GSA oversees the federal civilian workforce, federal government properties, and federal contracts. But these days, she is best known for refusing to allow President-elect Biden’s transition team to access federal agencies and transition funds.
The GSA administrator officially determines when an incoming presidential administration can begin to access federal agencies and transition funds. After November 7, 2020, when Joe Biden became generally acknowledged as president-elect following the 2020 election, Murphy refused to sign a letter (the “ascertainment” determination) allowing Biden’s transition team to begin work to facilitate an orderly transition of power. By refusing to allow the transition to proceed, she prevented the incoming administration from obtaining office space, performing background checks on prospective Cabinet nominees, and accessing classified information. Murphy’s withholding of the letter also blocked Biden’s transition team from accessing several million dollars in federal transition funds for salaries and other costs, establishing government email addresses, and working with the Office of Government Ethics on required financial disclosure and conflict-of-interest forms for incoming nominees. Before the 2020 election, Murphy had reportedly spoken with David Barram, who was President George W. Bush’s GSA administrator during the 2000 election, about the appropriate steps to take during a possible transition of power.
A few days ago, four former Secretaries of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff, Janet Napolitano, and Jeh Johnson, called upon Murphy to initiate the transition, writing in a joint statement: “Our country is in the middle of twin crises: a global pandemic and a severe economic downturn. The pandemic will make any transition more complicated. At this period of heightened risk for our nation, we do not have a single day to spare to begin the transition. For the good of the nation, we must start now.”
CNN reporters Kristin Holmes and Jeremy Herb published a profile of Murphy that included laudatory statements from her colleagues, who described her as a professional who “demonstrated a high degree of integrity” and an “ethical and moral person”. According to the sources, Murphy was neither a “Trump person” nor a “partisan hack”.The piece described Murphy as “struggling with the weight of the presidential election being dropped on her shoulders, feeling like she’s been put in a no-win situation”.
On November 19, the Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform formally requested that Murphy brief Congress “on your ongoing refusal to grant the Biden-Harris Transition Team access to critical services and facilities.” Both the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Chamber of Commerce have sent letters urging Murphy to allow the transition to proceed.
House Democrats sent Murphy a letter reading, “Your actions in blocking transition activities required under the law are having grave effects, including undermining the orderly transfer of power, impairing the incoming Administration’s ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, hampering its ability to address our nation’s dire economic crisis, and endangering our national security.” The letter set a response deadline of November 23,