“This is a team that is filled with people who understand government, who have been there before,” said Max Stier, the CEO of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, who has advised transition teams of both parties over the years, including Biden’s. Led by Kaufman, the Biden transition began working behind the scenes months before the election. “It's a very challenging thing to do this right, but they’ve started better than anybody so far,” Stier told me.
The pandemic, of course, isn’t new by now, and the Biden campaign, like businesses across the country, is used to interviewing job applicants remotely. Many of the people who will likely form the White House staff, for example, have already been working together remotely for months. (The transition team uses Google software for video meetings, rather than Zoom.) And in some cases, incoming members of the Biden administration might be able to start their jobs virtually too. The increase in telework throughout the government this year meant that many new employees took their oaths and completed their onboarding paperwork remotely.
But many jobs are too important to fill without an in-person meeting. “I would want to sit across the room from the president-elect before I'm going to take a job in his Cabinet,” a person close to the transition told me on the condition of anonymity because Biden’s team is under strict orders not to speak with the media. “So a lot could be done on Zoom, but some can’t.” (The former vice president reportedly conducted his search for a vice-presidential running mate this summer through a mix of in-person and virtual interviews.)
Nor can many other aspects of the transition proceed entirely remotely. Transition teams will need to physically enter government buildings to review classified documents at the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies. Biden officials have set up strict COVID-19 protocols—and says it reviews those requirements every two weeks—for when those teams begin meeting in person with their counterparts in the Trump administration. And the president-elect’s staff has named larger agency review teams than usual to account for the possibility that members could become infected or need to quarantine during the transition.
“Like many organizations around the country, the Biden transition team will continue to do our work remotely,” the team said in a statement. “While we have access to GSA space, the number of staff needed inside the office will be limited.”
Conducting so much sensitive planning remotely could also raise cybersecurity concerns, especially because the Biden team is not yet using government networks, and commercial platforms such as Zoom were plagued by security issues over the summer. The Biden transition team said it has “invested in best-in-class IT systems and processes,” including briefing staff members on using security keys and other best practices.