WASHINGTON — The incoming Biden team has been withholding the names of several career government officials tapped to temporarily lead major agencies with the hope of staving off any last-minute repercussions from departing Trump officials, according to people briefed on the matter, in the latest twist of a transition of power that has been anything but typical.
For about a week, the Biden team has not publicly identified the temporary heads of the Justice, State, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services Departments and the director of national intelligence. In some cases, the names are being withheld until Wednesday, officials familiar with the decisions said, underscoring thewidespread distrust of Trump loyalists among Biden aides, even though the transition will conclude in a matter of hours.
The officials briefed on the matter spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the Biden administration’s decisions on the transition.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is set to be the first president in decades to enter the White House without his national security team in place, as the Senate confirmation process has been delayed by extraordinary events — including Republicans’ reluctance to recognize his victory and two Senate runoff elections.
While the Senate held confirmation hearings on Tuesday for some of Mr. Biden’s national security nominees, on his first day in office, the president will be turning to career officials filling top spots temporarily, many of whom have been targeted by Trump loyalists over the past four years.
The fears that the Trump administration might try to interfere with Mr. Biden’s choices to serve as acting agency head were more acute a week ago. Moves by the State Department to try to lock in policy changes on China signaled that the departing administration would not follow established norms even in its final days.
But even up to the last moment, the Biden team was taking no chances that Trump administration officials might try to demote, harass or block the acting officials from communicating with the transition team, said a person familiar with the process.
Max Stier, the chief executive of the nonpartisan group the Partnership for Public Service, said the move to publicly withhold the names of some of the acting officials was “really quite unusual.”
“The idea that the team leaving has so broken trust with the career work force is sad,” Mr. Stier said in an interview on Tuesday. “No other president has gone to war with its own work force,” he added, referring to Mr. Trump.
Though the Biden team did not publicly provide the names of some officials, the identities appear to be known within the agencies. A person briefed on the process said the Biden team picked Lora Shiao to perform the duties of the director of national intelligence until Mr. Biden’s pick, Avril D. Haines, is confirmed by the Senate. Since September, she has served as the chief operating officer of that agency. Similarly, a person briefed on the decision said Monty Wilkinson, a low-profile human resources chief at the Justice Department, would step in as acting attorney general.
In some cases, finding an interim official was not simple. At the Defense Department, the Biden team struggled with putting a Trump appointee, David L. Norquist, in charge of the department, if only for a few days, until Mr. Biden’s nominee, Lloyd J. Austin III, is confirmed. By law, a Senate-confirmed deputy at the department, in this case, Mr. Norquist, automatically assumes the secretary’s duties when the secretary is absent. Mr. Biden ultimately chose to stick with tradition, and Mr. Norquist will fill in until Mr. Austin is sworn in.
The Biden transition team has cause, in at least one case, for not trusting Trump loyalists. In recent months, transition officials clashed with top Pentagon officials. First the Pentagon blocked the transition team’s access to some intelligence agencies. Then in mid-December, the Pentagon announced a “mutually agreed-upon holiday pause” in briefings, only to have Biden transition figures say there was no such agreement. The Pentagon put a Trump loyalist, Kashyap Patel, in charge of overseeing the transition, frustrating some members of the president-elect’s transition team.
In a sign of continuing tensions, the Biden transition team refused to give Christopher C. Miller, the acting defense secretary, office space in the Pentagon after the inauguration. A Biden transition team official cited Mr. Miller’s acting status and the coronavirus pandemic for the decision, which was reported earlier by Bloomberg.
At the Justice Department, the Biden team sought to find an interim attorney general who had not, at some point during the Trump administration, been involved in the myriad political scandals that have defined the agency.
In choosing Mr. Wilkinson — who has been overseeing human resources, security planning and the library at the Justice Department and is unknown even to most Washington insiders — the Biden transition team hoped for a steady and drama-free hand to run the department until Judge Merrick B. Garland, Mr. Biden’s nominee to be attorney general, could be confirmed in the coming weeks, according to a person briefed on the decision.
For the most part, the interim agency heads across the government who have been publicly named are career, nonpartisan officials.
For example, the acting secretary at the Treasury will be Andy Baukol, a longtime civil servant at the department and a principal deputy assistant secretary. He has been serving as the agency’s transition coordinator.
Similarly, at the Education Department, Philip H. Rosenfelt, the deputy general counsel for program service, who has worked at the department since 1971, will serve as the acting head. A trusted, respected and nonpartisan career staff member through several administrations, Mr. Rosenfelt was tapped for the same role during the confirmation process for Mr. Trump’s former education secretary, Betsy DeVos.
At the F.B.I., Christopher A. Wray will continue as director into the Biden administration, with more than six years left of his fixed 10-year term. Mr. Trump had previously told some of his cabinet officials that he intended to fire the F.B.I. director. But after Election Day, he informed Mr. Wray that he would allow him to remain, according to administration officials familiar with the episode.
At the C.I.A., David Cohen, Mr. Biden’s choice to be the agency deputy, will step in as the acting chief immediately after the inauguration. Mr. Cohen served as deputy director at the end of the Obama administration. Because the job does not require Senate confirmation, he can take it immediately.
Reporting was contributed by Lara Jakes, Jennifer Steinhauer, Katie Benner, Adam Goldman, Alan Rappeport and Noah Weiland.