WASHINGTON – The acting Secretary of Defense has canceled scheduled meetings between Defense Department officials and the Biden transition team.
This is a move that the department considers a temporary delay rather than a major blockade of inbound management. However, a spokesman for the Biden team said the transition officers were “concerned” about “a sudden halt to already limited cooperation” at the Department of Defense and accused the Pentagon of making a false statement about an agreed break from work.
The deadlock comes days after a major hack by government agencies, including the Pentagon, left the department to understand the potential damage, much of which is being handled by the incoming administration.
Axios first reported on Friday morning that incumbent Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, who had been installed at the Pentagon days after the November 3 elections, had ordered the cancellation of scheduled meetings. After the initial report, the Pentagon pushed back, saying the break was a postponement of sessions for Friday due to “competing priorities” for officials, and sessions would reopen in the New Year after a planned two-week Christmas break.
“The Department of Defense will continue to provide the Agency Review Team (ART) with the assistance it needs to ensure the security of our nation and its citizens,” Miller said in a statement, indicating that the 20 interviews scheduled for Friday have been postponed will be for after January 1st. “At no point has the department canceled or declined an interview.”
“After the mutually agreed vacation break that begins tomorrow, we will continue the transition and postpone the meetings from today,” the statement added. “Again, I continue to advocate for a complete and transparent transition – this is what our nation expects and the DoD will deliver AS IT ALWAYS HAS.”
At a briefing on Friday, Biden Transition spokesmen Yohannes Abraham and Jen Psaki denied there was an agreed vacation break and asked the Pentagon to resume discussions immediately.
When asked if the Biden team accused Miller of lying, Psaki said, “I don’t think we need to say this. I think you can judge the information we have provided for yourself.”
“It is not in our interest to provide inaccurate information about the status of our engagements,” she added. “We certainly prefer things to go as usual. This is our hope. “
Abraham added that the department’s political officers were particularly “stubborn” in sharing information compared to other government agencies and that the “sudden halt to already limited cooperation” needed to be reversed immediately – especially after the SolarWinds hack, believed to be this has exposed America’s national security agencies for months.
Pentagon observers have been closely following the transition process in the department following a wave of layoffs from top officials – including Secretary of Defense Mark Esper – followed by a group of Trump loyalists installed in the department.
Miller’s move has been criticized by outside experts who stated that an orderly transition at the Pentagon is vital to American security interests.
Kori Schake, director of defense studies at the American Enterprise Institute, described the delay in meetings as “both shameful and genuinely dangerous, especially given the ongoing cyber incursions by a hostile foreign power – something the Trump administration does in decimating cyber -Talents within the civil authorities enabled by the government.
“That decision is being reminded of the acting secretary, and it is a terrible legacy for a short term,” said Schake, a former national security official in the Bush administration.
Loren DeJonge Schulman, an assistant senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, said the reports were “very worrying and out of step with the way transitions should be made”.
“I helped coordinate the 2008 transition within the Department of Defense and understand how overwhelming the intensity and number of requests from transition teams can be, especially during the holiday season,” she said. “However, the new government’s ease of administration of the Department of Defense is not optional. National security does not pause.”