Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Acting Director Russell Vought speaks with reporters during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 11, 2019.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
The head of the White House budget office on Thursday refused to direct staff and resources to help with the incoming Biden administration’s spending plans, in an escalating dispute over what the office’s responsibilities are during the transition process.
Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought pushed back on accusations of obstruction raised by President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, adding that his agency will not cooperate with alleged efforts to “dismantle” Trump administration policies.
“Our system of government has one President and one Administration at a time,” Vought said in a letter to Biden’s transition chief, Ted Kaufman.
Biden spokesman Andrew Bates in a statement called it “indefensible,” in the midst of a time of economic hardship, “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.”
“The final two paragraphs of this letter both affirm exactly what the transition said yesterday, while contradicting the letter’s opening with an overtly political admission of what is truly taking place — which flies in the face of how OMB has operated during every presidential transition for decades,” Bates said. “The President-elect will continue to work in good faith to lift our country out of this emergency as quickly as possible. There is one responsible course of action.”
Biden in a speech Monday singled out the political leaders of the OMB and the Department of Defense for setting up “roadblocks” that hinder his efforts to prepare for the presidency.
“Right now, we just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas,” Biden said at the time. “It’s nothing short, in my view, of irresponsibility.”
Acting Defense chief Christopher Miller responded later that day, saying in a statement that the Pentagon’s efforts “already surpass those of recent administrations with over three weeks to go.”
In a virtual briefing Wednesday, incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki and Biden advisor Yohannes Abraham again criticized those agencies.
“There’s no question that the process will be delayed by what we’ve encountered by the outgoing OMB,” Abraham said. “The production of the budget takes many person hours, and it takes the analytical support that has been a part of OMB’s engagement with prior transitions that we have not been in receipt of.”
Historically, the OMB provides economic and budget-related information to incoming administrations well before inauguration day in order to prepare them to quickly submit the new president’s budget. The document is technically due the first Monday in February, but has been delayed in the past.
Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the matter, reported earlier Thursday that Vought is blocking Biden team members from meeting with budget officials as he aims to finalize and publish new regulations before the Trump administration comes to an end.
In his letter to Kaufman, Vought said the record shows “OMB has fully participated in appropriate transition efforts.”
Vought said that the budget agency has held more than 45 meetings with Biden staff and has “provided all information requested” about ongoing programs. He also said that Biden’s team has been briefed on the Trump administration’s coronavirus relief efforts, including Operation Warp Speed, the White House’s vaccine development and distribution plan.
“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,” Vought’s letter said.
“OMB staff are working on this Administration’s policies and will do so until this Administration’s final day in office. Redirecting staff and resources to draft your team’s budget proposals is not an OMB transition responsibility.”
Vought added: “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.”