President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team is using a “standard, paid Google workspace network” with only limited support from the federal government thanks to Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 elections and efforts to hobble the inbound Democratic administration, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
Presidential transition teams typically have the support of the General Services Administration, which helps them set up and manage “ptt.gov” email accounts, and the Department of Homeland Security, which provides cybersecurity assistance to help ensure those accounts aren’t penetrated. That isn’t happening, or at least not in full. The GSA has refused to recognize Biden has won the election, and its Trump-appointed chief Emily Murphy has given no indication she feels the need to anytime soon. (She could theoretically hold off until congressional certification of the electoral college in January 2021.) The GSA has offered “basic information technology and cybersecurity services,” the Journal wrote, but is apparently holding out otherwise.
Foreign hackers and everyone else would obviously love to spy on a presidential transition team and gain key information about the shape, priorities, and goings-on of the inbound administration. The GSA’s refusal to acknowledge Trump didn’t win the election also means the Biden team may not be receiving classified briefings on cybersecurity threats ranging from efforts to target the transition to operations being run by hostile foreign governments.
In lieu of any effort by the feds to do less than the bare minimum, Biden transition staffers have taken some matters into their own hands. That includes the use of Titan Security Keys (physical cryptographic keys that must be used to access encrypted accounts), a need-to-know information policy, and cybersecurity briefings for staffers, according to the Journal.
Additionally, the Verge reported the transition says all accounts are enrolled in Google’s Advanced Protection Program and Google’s Enhanced Protection Program. The GSA has at least provided computers, cell phones, and office space, though the office has been mostly vacant due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are preparing to govern during a global pandemic and an economic recession, all while working remotely,” a transition official told the Journal. “From the outset of the transition, we have invested in best-in-class IT systems and processes.”
Other federal agencies are also not fully cooperating with the Biden transition team in ways that could sabotage the early days of his presidency. The GSA’s refusal to recognize Biden’s win gave cover to departments ranging from the U.S. Agency for International Development to Veterans Affairs to stonewall his team, according to the Washington Post, with political appointees ordering civil servants not to communicate with the transition team or brief them on issues. The GSA is withholding millions in transition funds. Biden’s team recently said that if Murphy continues to stand in their way, the rollout of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus could be delayed weeks or months, as Health and Human Services Department staff are refusing to discuss things like the logistics of manufacturing and distributing the vaccine or the data showing where it is needed most.
A White House spokesperson told the Verge the administration is “following all statutory requirements,” which is rich.