Weekly Insights: 2020 Presidential Transition Index


January 18, 2021 update:

“Three days until Inauguration Day, the PTI team finds that 76 percent of statutory obligations related to the presidential transition are in compliance. Twelve statutory obligations required for a presidential transition still have yet to be completed.

The research team notes that in past presidential transitions, the Senate has considered nominations by this point in time, which suggests this transition is not on track to meet the benchmark. For this reason, the PTI team adjusted the ‘Senate Consideration’ variable from ‘N/A’ (not applicable) to ‘zero’ (incomplete). Delays in Senate consideration of national security candidates may challenge the Biden administration’s ability to govern efficiently and effectively in its first weeks.”

Rachel Gagnon, second-year master of global affairs student


January 11, 2021 update:

“Just short of two weeks before the inauguration, 77 percent of statutory provisions related to the presidential transition are complete. Revisions in the index this week include changing two index measures—submission of national security candidates to the Senate and training of new political appointees—from ‘N/A’ to ‘zero’ as the two procedures are currently underway but incomplete. We also re-coded financial disclosure from ‘zero’ to ‘one’ as financial disclosure reports have been filed by candidates according to the Office of Government Ethics. However, the level of coordination and collaboration between the incoming Biden administration and the outgoing Trump administration remains inadequate. Though insurrectionists’ attempts to disrupt the certification of states’ Electoral College votes by storming the Capitol failed, our team fears that the events of January 6 could unfortunately slow down the transition process.”

Maggie Shum, research associate


Supplemental quote:

“The smoothness of presidential transitions relies on norms as well as legal statutes. This was laid bare on January 6 when President Trump encouraged Congressional Republicans to reject Electoral College votes from key states, and then incited the mob to engage in violence against the legislative branch itself. By refusing to concede the election without legitimate cause, President Trump has radicalized his core supporters, framing the transition to the incoming Biden administration as an existential crisis. When surveyed in December, our panel of transition experts foreshadowed these events, stating:

  •  ‘We are in trouble. There is still too much division in this country and there are too many people who are acting out on that division (protesting, violence, threatening people, etc.) in this country.’
  • ‘It’s revealed a previously unrecognized fragility—the health of our democracy depends as much on norms as on the Constitution and laws.’

“While the majority of legal statutes have been met thus far, the extraordinary events of January 6 make it all too clear that, because of the President’s position, millions of Americans do not view President-elect Biden as the legitimate winner of the election, which has led to extremist rhetoric, political violence, and even domestic terrorism. As these events do not happen in a vacuum, it is very likely that the storming of the Capitol will impede transition processes, though we do not have a specific variable to point to as of this morning.”

– The PTI team


December 21, 2020 update:

“This week, the compliance with statutory requirements declined from 81 percent to 78 percent. This setback underscores the current level of deficient coordination and collaboration between the incoming Biden administration and the outgoing Trump administration. Accordingly, the PTI team saw a need to downgrade our rating of the Agency Guidance variable to zero as our second survey pointed to some variations in the provision of transition guidance across government agencies. In other words, guidance from some agencies is not made available to the transition team.”

Shadwa Ibrahim, second-year master of global affairs student


Supplementary update on second round of expert survey findings:

“The second wave of the PTI survey was collected from December 15 to 19. In this survey, we gathered primarily qualitative data on the state of the transition and how experts anticipate it will affect the early days of the Biden administration. Following the ascertainment of the election on November 23, information sharing, access to resources, and relationship building has begun between Trump administration officials and members of the Biden-Harris team, but the degree of progress on these measures varies significantly across government agencies. In particular, experts pointed to agency heads with close personal ties to the President as not being forthcoming in their information sharing nor relationship building. Overall 6/10 experts assess the current state of information sharing and collaboration as subpar.

We also gathered input on how and in which areas the rough state of the transition—driven by President Trump’s refusal to concede—may affect the ability of the incoming administration to govern effectively. Experts perceived Biden’s ability to efficiently address the COVID-19 crisis and grapple with foreign policy challenges to be negatively impacted by the state of the transition; while longer term priorities such as economic policies, climate change and racial justice seemed less affected by the transition process. Experts also weighed in on the potential challenges that Biden would face in office: the delegitimization of Biden’s presidency, heightened polarization in Congress (resulting in greater likelihood of gridlock), and to a lesser extent operational delay in preparing incoming political appointees all presented serious obstacles for Biden to govern. While electoral and judicial institutions have proven robust over the past two months, experts are overwhelmingly concerned on how the erosion of democratic norms, hyperpolarization, and widespread disinformation will affect the health of American democracy.”

Paul Friesen, political science PhD student


December 14, 2020 update:

“For the first time since the beginning of this project, the PTI team observed no changes in the state of the transition between the outgoing Trump administration and the incoming Biden administration between December 7-14. This status quo (81 percent compliance with statutory provisions), on the one hand, signals that the transition process is on par with last week. On the other hand, there are lingering concerns about the pace of activity needed to ensure all elements of the transition proceed in an orderly and timely fashion. Among other things, our team still perceives information-sharing efforts as insufficient and has found no evidence of the Biden-Harris transition team receiving a detailed, classified national security summary or a summary of modern transitions, as required by law.”

William Kakenmaster, political science PhD student


December 7, 2020 update:

“This week the PTI team witnessed a slight increase to 81 percent compliance with statutory provisions related to the presidential transition, up from 79 percent last week. This change is attributed to the team finding new evidence of the Office of Personnel Management Quarterly Appointees Reports. Though the transition seems to be progressing smoothly after ascertainment, there are still areas of uncertainty. The team perceives information sharing efforts to be unsatisfactory and has concerns about the ability of the Trump administration and Biden transition team to forge meaningful professional relationships, which would aid in transition smoothness. The PTI team is also concerned with and continually monitoring the issue of politically appointed officials ‘burrowing’ into civil service positions. To address these nuanced issues with qualitative data, the team is preparing a second iteration of the expert survey.”

Rachel Gagnon, second-year master of global affairs student

  79% Fulfilled

November 30, 2020 update:

“This week witnessed a significant increase in the number of statutory provisions in compliance, reaching 79 percent of the total provisions in the PTI, compared to 52 percent last week. This surge is attributed to the GSA’s ascertainment of Joe Biden as the apparent President-elect and Kamala Harris as the apparent Vice-President-elect based on their electoral victory. The newly met provisions include access to office space, communications, and transition staff compensation, in addition to the submission of national security positions candidates to the FBI and the initiation of their background checks. However, our team still perceives the information sharing efforts between the current and incoming administrations as insufficient to meet the statutory requirements.”

Shadwa Ibrahim, second-year master of global affairs student


Supplementary update on survey findings:

“Our survey of experts on presidential transitions, gathered between November 18 and 20, drew attention to the importance of communication and relationship-building between members of the Trump administration and Biden-Harris transition team. Prior to GSA Administrator Emily Murphy’s ascertainment of the apparent President-elect and Vice-President-elect, 88 percent of experts reported an absence of positive and professional working relationships between members of the Biden and Trump teams. Our survey respondents viewed the lack of ascertainment as the central obstacle to a smooth presidential transition—primarily because the Trump White House would not recognize Biden as President-elect:

  •  ‘Agency staff have been entirely banned from working with the Biden transition.’
  • ‘Without the official ascertainment from GSA, the Biden-Harris team is unable to officially start their transition work including speaking directly with agencies and current staff.’

Relationship-building between incoming and outgoing government officials is critical. 95 percent of experts report that the delayed transition will negatively impact the ability of an incoming Biden-Harris administration to fight the Coronavirus pandemic:

  • ‘The sooner the transition team can access HHS and CDC personnel and information to understand the current actions to fight the pandemic, the sooner they can begin to set their strategy and tactics to fight the pandemic. Every day without that information delays and makes more difficult the planning and the implementation of those plans.’

“With ascertainment having now been completed, there is renewed opportunity for meaningful communication and relationship-building between the Biden and Trump teams, which would allow the incoming Biden-Harris administration to govern effectively on day one and stem the toll of the pandemic.”

Paul Friesen, political science PhD student

  52% Fulfilled

November 23, 2020 update:

“The third weekly update of the PTI shows a slight uptick in the proportion of statutory provisions in compliance. Previously, only 48 percent of these provisions were in compliance, compared with 52 percent as of November 23. Our team found that background checks for some members of the Biden transition team were proceeding, and confirmed that a memo of understanding had been signed between the GSA and the Biden transition team regarding access to the resources and services once the election has been ascertained. The lack of ascertainment, however, continues to serve as the main obstacle to a smooth transfer of power between President Trump and President-Elect Biden.”

William Kakenmaster, political science PhD student


Supplementary update on survey findings:

“We identified approximately 100 experts on presidential transitions including academics, journalists, and analysts from think tanks and NGOs, as well as officials involved in previous transitions to participate in the survey which was opened from November 18–20, 2020. We received 39 complete responses and 8 partial ones. Below are the main findings:

  • Around 90 percent of the experts found the Trump administration’s performance sub-par, especially the lack of information sharing and communication with the Biden-Harris team. The Trump administration is not providing information or assistance to the Biden-Harris team as it does not recognize them as the legitimate winners of the election. The assessment of the Biden-Harris team was much more positive, with 81 percent of the experts noting that the team was sharing information and documentation in a transparent and timely manner.
  • Nearly 95 percent of the experts perceived that the current state of the transition would negatively impact the Biden-Harris administration’s ability to fight the ongoing pandemic. Though, some noted that these potential negative impacts could be partially buttressed by the high caliber of the Biden-Harris team members and the fact that much of the critical vaccine preparation work may be done by mid-January.
  • 84 percent of the experts believed that the GSA Administrator (Emily Murphy) has sufficient information to ascertain the election, and 11 percent believed the contrary. Importantly though, some experts emphasized that Murphy had every right to not ascertain the election yet. Others, however, pointed out that there is strong precedent for her to have done so at this stage and implied the GSA is under strong political pressure to follow the White House’s lead.
  • 13 percent of the experts presumed the election dispute will be resolved soon with limited impact on the transition, though the remainder of experts worried about the dispute affecting the Biden administration’s ability to govern; particularly, that continued instability would limit the country’s ability to project soft power globally, a potential domestic legitimacy crisis among ardent Trump supporters.

“88 percent of the experts concurred that career members have been directly or indirectly instructed to not contact or engage with Biden-Harris personnel. The wording used by experts suggests intentional interferences with ‘block,’ ‘ban,’ and ‘not allowed.’ This standstill in relationship building is seen as tied to the election dispute and the lack of ascertainment.”

Maggie Shumresearch associate

  48% Fulfilled

November 16, 2020 update:

“In our second transition assessment, the PTI research team has identified a significant drop in compliance with statutory requirements relating to transition processes, from 74 percent compliance on November 2 to 48 percent on November 16. We attribute this change to the fact that the GSA Administrator has not yet ascertained the outcome of the election, resulting in barriers to transition processes such as information sharing between the Trump Administrations and the Biden-Harris Transition, the identification of vacancies in federal agencies, and access to classified information and to federal agencies and federal agency personnel by the Biden-Harris Transition Agency Review Teams.”

Rachel Gagnon, second-year master of global affairs student


November 9, 2020 update:

“Between November 2–9, 2020, the PTI research team decided to monitor the election results and did not update the index. After this period of time, the team decided to update the election results weekly.”

PTI Research Team



  74% Fulfilled

November 2, 2020 update:

“In our first-ever assessment on the eve of Election Day, we find that preparations for a presidential transition are on track, but the quality of the transition is not yet clear. As of November 2, 2020, 74 percent of statutory requirements for a presidential transition have been fulfilled. Although President Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, an official transition process is underway as required by law.

Given the need for a smooth transition in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, our research team will continue to provide insight around the status of the presidential transition, irrespective of the election result. PTI analysis will cover both possible election scenarios: a transition from President Donald Trump to former Vice President Biden, or a transition from a first Trump term to a second Trump term.”

PTI Research Team



The Presidential Transition Index (PTI) is an ongoing research project of the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame. The index will provide a contemporaneous review of the 2020 US presidential transition and will include quantitative and qualitative assessments. Updates from the PTI research team are published weekly, Mondays at 1:00 p.m. EST.


Learn more about the PTI research project