- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2000

The White House has ordered the General Services Administration not to turn over keys of the presidential transition office to Texas Gov. George W. Bush, even if he is declared the winner in Florida.
Federal law requires the GSA administrator to "ascertain" the apparent winner in a presidential election and sign forms allowing the winner to begin obligating $5.3 million in appropriated funds for the presidential transition through Jan. 20.
But the White House has ordered GSA and other federal agencies not to proceed with any transition activities "until the time when the election is decided," presumably by the Electoral College on Dec. 18.
"We're not going to decide who the president is," says a GSA official, who asked not to be named.
Sarah Gegenheimer, a White House spokeswoman, says President Clinton's chief of staff, John Podesta, had sent a memorandum to GSA and other federal agencies directing them not to proceed with any transition activities.
Congress appropriated $5.27 million for a 73-day presidential transition that was to begin Nov. 8, including office space in downtown Washington for the president-elect's government-in-waiting and expenses for other costs leading to the Jan. 20 inaugural.
GSA has furnished and equipped a five-story office building at 1800 F St. NW for the presidential transition, with 90,000 square feet of space for 540 transition employees at a cost of $9,600 a day to taxpayers.
On Nov. 8, the day after the election, GSA Administrator David J. Barram held a televised press conference to announce that the building was ready for occupancy. He declared his readiness to "hand over the key to transition headquarters" to the president-elect to prepare for the government changeover Jan. 20.
But as the Florida muddle unfolded, the Clinton-Gore administration stepped in to halt the start of any transition, GSA officials say.
One official said the White House first told Mr. Barram and GSA lawyers last week to wait until all Democratic court challenges had been exhausted in Florida.
Mr. Barram had issued a statement Nov. 9 saying he would ascertain a winner, as the law requires, "when the election results are clear and the apparent losing candidate concedes the election."
But GSA spokesman Hap Connors told The Washington Post Thursday, regarding the Bush campaign's claim to have won the election: "Just because they declare themselves the winners doesn't mean we are going to automatically turn over the keys to the Bush transition team. We will have to consider the pending court issues and decisions and all the other issues that are swirling around in Florida."
"No one envisioned this situation," another GSA official told The Washington Times.
Alvin S. Felzenberg, who heads the Heritage Foundation's transition-advisory program, said the transition delay won't hurt the new president-elect.
As vice president for the past eight years, Mr. Gore needs little time for transition, Mr. Felzenberg said. As governor of Texas, Mr. Bush has "sure footing" as executive of a large state bureaucracy and will make the transition easily.
The congressional appropriation for the transition includes $1 million for the president-elect to procure advice and consultation from private, nonprofit think tanks such as Heritage, the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, GSA officials said.
All three think tanks have funded transition projects, drawing advice and experience from former top appointees in Democratic and Republican administrations since the Kennedy administration.
Mr. Felzenberg said the new president's biggest challenge is to persuade Congress and federal agencies to change "tortuous" conflict-of-interest requirements and redundant paperwork that inhibit successful business executives and others from being recruited for some 6,000 top and midlevel presidential appointments throughout the government.
"To convince people ages 35 to 50, when they're really making their way in their careers, to come in to take these middle positions is very, very difficult," he says.

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