President Donald Trump’s budget director is accusing President-elect Joe Biden’s team of issuing “false statements” regarding his office’s cooperation during the ongoing transition, insisting the office has been fully transparent over the course of 45 meetings.
Still, in a letter to Biden’s transition chief dated Thursday, Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought said his office would not help transition officials begin developing their own policies that he claimed would “bankrupt America.”
The letter was the latest development in a devolving spat between the incoming and outgoing administrations over the level of cooperation during the transition. Biden’s team has accused OMB and the Pentagon specifically of withholding critical information that could damage national security, an allegation Trump’s defense and budget officials have sharply disputed.
“As the record shows, OMB has fully participated in appropriate transition efforts. What we have not done and will not do is use current OMB staff to write the (Biden Transition Team’s) legislative policy proposals to dismantle this Administration’s work. OMB staff are working on this Administration’s policies and will do so until this Administration’s final day in office,” Vought wrote in his letter, which was addressed to Ted Kaufman, the head of Biden’s transition.
“Redirecting staff and resources to draft your team’s budget proposals is not an OMB transition responsibility,” he said.
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden’s transition team, shot back later Thursday, doubling down on its accusation of a lack of cooperation from OMB.
“In this moment of unprecedented crisis, when millions of American families are enduring terrible economic hardship, it is indefensible to hamstring the United States government’s ability to prepare a budget and efficiently deliver help to those who need it most, particularly out of explicit, declared partisanship,” Bates said in a statement.
CNN reported this week that Trump administration officials are wary of any transition activity that could provide the Biden team a head start in dismantling Trump’s priorities, such as his border wall construction. Other officials also expressed concern that information provided to the Biden team could be leaked or made public, though there hasn’t been any evidence of that happening in the weeks since transition meetings began.
In remarks on Monday, Biden included OMB in his criticism of the outgoing Trump administration’s transition efforts.
“We’ve encountered roadblocks from the political leadership in the Department of Defense and the Office of Management and Budget. Right now, we just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware, where his transition is headquartered.
On Wednesday, Biden’s transition said OMB’s unwillingness to cooperate on transition efforts was specifically impairing planning for Covid-19 relief efforts
“This intentionally generated opacity makes it harder for our government to move forward,” said Yohannes Abraham, the transition’s executive director. “OMB leadership’s refusal to fully cooperate impairs our ability to identify opportunities to maximize the relief going out to Americans during the pandemic and it leaves us in the dark as it relates to COVID-related expenditures and critical gaps.”
In his letter, Vought insisted OMB had briefed the Biden team of Covid efforts, including budgetary levels.
“To your specific criticisms with respect to COVID, as you are aware, your team has been briefed by OMB, as well as the relevant agencies, on Operation Warp Speed and other COVID relief efforts, including the various funding streams in use for these efforts,” he wrote. “Furthermore, there is record of your team accessing these critical documents just last week.”
He concluded his letter to Kaufman by writing: “Our system of government has one President and one Administration at a time. OMB will not participate in developing policies that will weaken border security, dismantle the President’s deregulatory successes, and draft budgets that will bankrupt America.”
It’s unclear whether any specific directive has been sent from the President on hampering transition activities. Aides say Trump remains solely focused on overturning the results of the election, and hasn’t paid particular mind to the transition activities that are currently occurring at agencies. He has no plans to meet with Biden himself.
But one official said Trump has expressed concerns that Biden’s team is looking for ways to erase his agenda items such as the border wall, and has also suggested, without evidence, that Biden’s team is leaking information about his administration.
This story has been updated with a statement from the Biden transition team.