Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Getting Stuff Done

The transition to an Obama administration is well underway. Despite the rumors, the trial balloons and the media misapprehensions, some elements are coming clear.

The transition and the Obama administration are serious about ethics. In his press briefing Tuesday, transition chief John Podesta announced the new ethics policy, "which he called the most comprehensive and restrictive ever. Registered lobbyists can only serve if they deregister and can't serve on policy teams that relate to the subjects on which they lobbied. And transition staffers can't lobby for a year after they leave the transition service. Noting that some lobbyists have objected to this - a lot of expertise might be lost and a lot of good people might be bypassed, he said, simply, "So be it."

Podesta also said that "the American people will see a transition of government that is efficient, that is organized, that is bipartisan and more open and transparent than others before."

Although no decisions on what Bush executive orders will be reversed, Podesta confirmed that Obama is reviewing them all, in order to decide which ones he will reverse. But he is on record concerning at least one: "The president-elect has said, for example, that he intends to quickly reverse the Bush administration's decision last December to deny California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. "Effectively tackling global warming demands bold and innovative solutions, and given the failure of this administration to act, California should be allowed to pioneer," Obama said in January.

The transition itself seems designed to make decisions on appointments with thoroughness and deliberation--so we may not hear of any Cabinet appointments until after Thanksgiving, for example--but careful groundwork is being formed to get this officials up and running once their appointments are made, by expediting confirmations and bureaucratic necessities.

But what will they be transitioning to? Obama has been clear on the need to "get stuff done" immediately, and in certain instances, to get it done--or at least started--even before he takes office. He is urging Congress to consider an economic stimulus package in its upcoming "lame duck" session. He is advocating for government rescue of the U.S. automakers, although not without conditions: Mr. Obama has signaled to the automakers and the unions that his support for short-term aid now, and long-term assistance once he takes office, is contingent on their willingness to agree to transform their industry to make cleaner, more energy-efficient vehicles.

Since the election, everyone has an opinion on what Obama should and must do. He has been counselled by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman to think and act big and bold, and by a Washington Post analyst to settle for a modest agenda.

The word coming from those involved in the transition strongly suggests that Obama is thinking big--and fast: Obama plans to challenge Congress to begin work on all four of his top four priorities — the economy, energy, health care and education, billing them all as “reforms” that will help struggling middle-class families.

Team Obama is also creating the structure to make good on his promise of greater opportunities for wider participation. Building on the campaign's Internet efforts, to communicate with millions, directly via the web. This huge army of supporters can counter the influence of paid lobbyists by themselves communicating directly with members of Congress to push the Obama agenda.

But such communication is two-way, and even though the Washington Post article about it considers this a "downside," it is clear from Obama's past statements that he welcomes the exchange of information and opinions, and especially the informed involvement of Americans in their government. These plans look towards fostering the community-building and the sense of "we" mentioned in a comment by cousin Lemuel.

In the midst of a growing global economic crisis, it is important (as Obama says) for the U.S. government to start taking action immediately. But he's also made it clear, directly in his first press conference, that if they don't act before he is inaugurated, he intends to start getting stuff done on January 20.

No comments: