MFIA Clinic Collaboration Calls for Smooth Presidential Transition Amidst Escalating Pandemic

The Media Freedom and Information Access (MFIA) Clinic at Yale Law School joined forces with Protect Democracy, Public Citizen, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest to draft and organize the submission of a letter signed by almost 200 public health experts urging General Services Administration (GSA) Administrator Emily Murphy to complete the ascertainment of the presidential election. The letter urges Murphy take that step so that President-elect Joe Biden and his team can begin a process of the coordination needed to address a worsening pandemic.

The determination would allow the Biden team access to government agencies, federal funds, and key information and records for organizing the transition. This would help the President-elect to begin assessing national COVID-19 supply chains and manufacturing capabilities, and then to determine the capacities of states and localities to do contact tracing, conduct testing, and generally respond to the pandemic.

The Clinic’s letter argues that amidst an escalating pandemic, it is crucial that time isn’t wasted during this transition period. The letter explains that until Joe Biden is recognized as President-elect by the GSA, the planning that goes into vaccine distribution and public health-coordination cannot begin. According to the letter, with vaccine trial results being released, there must be a plan in place to ensure that a vaccine can be properly distributed with coordination between federal, state, and local health agencies.

The letter to Murphy is signed by deans of major medical schools, former federal health officials, and medical experts around the country. It underscores the need for a smooth transition of power in order for an effective national strategy to mitigate the spread of the disease. In the past, smooth transitions between administrations were key to addressing national crises. In 2008, the presidential transition occurred during the financial crisis, with full cooperation between the Obama and Bush administrations. This is generally understood to be vital for the public good, according to the letter, and helps new administrations face challenges as quickly as possible. In 2016, despite a recount in Wisconsin, the GSA made the ascertainment that then-candidate Trump had won the presidency on the day after the election, and the Obama administration brought the then-President-elect up to speed.

The letter is an outgrowth of the MFIA Clinic’s COVID-19 team project, where students work with health experts to advocate for transparency in the testing and approval processes for essential COVID-19 medicines. The team seeks to make information about vaccine trial designs available to the public, and to ensure that any Food and Drug Administration Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is supported by adequate science in order to encourage transparency and government accountability, which is core to MFIA’s mission. The next set of challenges beyond research transparency is the logistics of the government’s distribution of any approved vaccine. The letter argues that the Biden administration needs access to crucial data to begin making necessary arrangements for public health and safety.

Sam Aber ’22, a student in the Clinic, said that the rigor of vaccine trials is only the first step. “This letter allowed our team to work not just on transparency issues related to the safety and efficacy of vaccines, but also on another condition for their effective deployment: a smooth transition of power that allows the government to respond as effectively as possible to the global pandemic.”

The MFIA Clinic at Yale Law School is dedicated to increasing government transparency, defending the essential work of news gatherers, and protecting freedom of expression through impact litigation, direct legal services, and policy work.

By Leah Ferentinos