Instead, laptops have been shipped so that Joe Biden’s team can work from home. Biden himself is not yet in Washington either, but at home in Delaware – surrounded by a few close confidants. Preparations for the presidency are mostly carried out via zoom.
After taking office in January, Biden will have to do without commercial video conferencing services – if only because of possible security gaps. In other respects, too, he and his employees are facing a radical change: in the midst of a pandemic that has not yet been brought under control, they will take over a building in which short distances and direct contacts normally play an extremely important role.
So far, Biden’s team has little experience with everyday office life under Corona. In mid-March almost all election campaign activities were moved to the Internet. The then headquarters in Philadelphia was vacated and the employees went back to their families in Washington, New York or elsewhere.
Even now, in the transition phase, almost everything will be handled online. Only on the evening of the election did a few close advisors meet physically and – wearing masks and observing the rules of distance – followed the projections in the conference rooms of a hotel.
Government work (almost) only online – is that possible?
One of the few occasions the Biden team’s Washington office space is in use is the highly confidential daily briefings of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. In certain cases, teleworking would also be conceivable after the transfer of power. However, it is questionable whether government work could be done efficiently in this way.
Most of Biden’s employees will have to physically go to work on January 20th. And to do this, a comprehensive security concept must first be created. Because the approach under Donald Trump serves at best as a deterrent example: Despite frequent tests, there have been at least two more outbreaks in the White House since the incumbent was infected in October.
In addition to the president’s family, dozens other people were infected with the corona virus, including Trump’s chief of staff, his deputy chief of staff, the press spokeswoman and Trump’s chief election officer.
The reason for this widespread spread, the full extent of which is not even publicly known, is likely to be Trump’s skepticism towards strict protective measures. During the election campaign, he organized mass events, allowed regular travel and did not rely on wearing face masks in his own environment.
The Biden team, on the other hand, makes an effort to follow the recommendations of science – i.e. to use masks, keep your distance at events and test regularly.
Only with a lot of discipline in the West Wing
Long-serving employees of the White House describe it as a solvable task to make the West Wing, i.e. the wing of the building with the official offices of the US President, a safe place to work even in times of pandemic. What would be required, however, is a high level of discipline – both on the part of direct employees and on the part of the many hundreds of officials from other federal agencies who support the White House.
Biden’s team has not yet worked out the details. However, it is considered, for example, to severely limit the number of people with unhindered access to the West Wing, to promote home office wherever possible and to rely on secure video conference services even during coordination processes within the house so that several people are as rarely as possible in one room.
With regard to vaccinations, Trump has planned to ensure that important government employees are vaccinated against the corona virus in the last few weeks. Biden himself is expected to have his first dose of the vaccine next week.
Meanwhile, different rules apply to the actual move this time. As soon as Trump has moved out, the West Wing is to be completely cleaned from top to bottom. However, experts emphasize that additional measures must be taken to avoid a possible transmission of the virus to the new residents.
The “complete air exchange” is important
For one thing, all surfaces need to be cleaned thoroughly, especially in places like door handles that are often touched, says Abraar Karan of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. On the other hand, it must be ensured that there is no transmission via aerosols. It is therefore important that there is a “complete exchange of air” between the cleaning and the move in of the new presidential family.
Usually, the change in the White House takes five or six hours, says Kate Andersen Brower, author of the book “The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House”.
For security reasons, the people who are already employed in the building come into play – from the technicians to the kitchen team. “In the past, there was literally a moving truck at the South Lawn entrance and one at the north entrance.”