President-Elect Obama Vows Change, Agency by Agency

Associated Press

New attitude: Obama vows change, agency by agency

November 6, 2008 – President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to reverse or sharply modify many of the Bush administration’s policies. Based on his campaign promises, these are key areas where changes are expected.

VETERANS AFFAIRS – By AP’s Kimberly Hefling

Obama wants to expand VA health care for veterans. Congress voted in 1996 to do that, but the agency has exercised its authority to suspend enrollments as needed. Obama has said that led to 1 million veterans being turned away, and he has promised to reverse the policy.

He also said he would improve screening and treatment for mental health conditions and traumatic brain injury; expand the number of housing vouchers and start a program to help veterans at risk of being homeless; add more rural veterans centers; create an electronic system to transfer medical records from the military; and improve preventative health options.

DEFENSE – By AP’s Lolita C. Baldor

Obama’s promise to get U.S. troops out of Iraq in the first 16 months of his presidency helped launch his candidacy. He says he will shift forces and resources to Afghanistan.

But, overall, the Pentagon under Obama may not look much different than it does today. When and how he extricates troops from Iraq may depend on the security pact that U.S. officials negotiate with Iraqi lawmakers.

Obama has called for a responsible and phased withdrawal to bring the bulk of the troops out by mid-2010. The proposed security pact being pressed by Iraqis would have all U.S. forces out of the cities by next summer, and out of the country by the end of 2011.

For Afghanistan, Obama has said he would add about 7,000 troops to the U.S. force of 31,000. Pentagon officials are poised to more than double that increase — saying they need 15,000 to 20,000 more troops in Afghanistan.

Obama wants to increase the size of the Army, Marine Corps and special operations forces, efforts already under way. He has called for greater emphasis on counterinsurgency missions — a move the military recognized as critical in the early years of the Iraq war, and began to implement.

STATE – By AP’s Matthew Lee

Obama will inherit foreign policy challenges involving Iran, North Korea, Russia, China, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has said he would place a premium on diplomacy over the use of force to solve disputes, and he pledged to maintain a robust diplomatic corps and foreign aid programs.

However, the current financial crisis could curtail some overseas development programs the Bush administration has championed, and there could be a shift in the department’s emphasis.

Obama’s stated willingness to talk with leaders like those in Iran, Syria and North Korea, may result in increased diplomatic activity in areas where the Bush administration initially resisted engagement, including dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The new president will find a diplomatic corps that has often been frustrated by its lack of influence over the past eight years, notably during Bush’s first term when the Colin Powell-led State Department’s words of caution on the Iraq war were ignored.

JUSTICE – By AP’s Lara Jakes Jordan

The Justice Department will re-examine all surveillance, interrogation and detainee policies to see if any should be overturned or changed. Obama has said he wants to close the detention facility at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, meaning he must decide whether terror suspects held there now should face military or civilian trials if they are moved to U.S. jails.

Obama advisers say he may review the department’s newly approved guidelines that could let the FBI investigate Americans in national security cases without evidence of a crime, based in part on their ethnicity or religion. He wants to create a senior position — likely from the FBI or Homeland Security Department — to coordinate all domestic intelligence gathering.

He has called for hiring 50,000 new police officers nationwide. The administration is likely to urge Congress to pass the Matthew Shepard Act, which expands federal hate crime laws to include protections for people targeted because of their gender, sexual orientation or disabilities — and then require vigorous Justice Department enforcement.

Obama says he wants to eliminate any disparity between sentencing guidelines for people convicted of crack cocaine crimes and those for powder cocaine. Penalties for crack cocaine offenses are much harsher, and the vast majority of those convicted are black.

ENERGY – By AP’s Joe Hebert

The Energy Department is likely to shift its focus dramatically toward development of alternative energy, increasing support for research into cellulosic ethanol, wind turbines, solar technology and more fuel-efficient cars. The department is likely to press for tougher efficiency standards for appliances and buildings.

Obama has said he wants to spend $15 billion a year to spur alternative energy and more efficient use of energy. Economic and budgetary problems, however, may make those spending levels difficult.

Obama has said he does not oppose nuclear power, but has reservations about building dozens of new reactors because of concerns about radioactive waste. Obama has said he believes Yucca Mountain in Nevada — where Bush wants to bury reactor waste — is not the right place to keep it for millions of years. It’s not certain whether Obama will withdraw the Yucca Mountain license application, now before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The Energy Department may more closely scrutinize loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors. Obama’s Energy Department is likely to continue along its current path on most nuclear weapons programs and related waste cleanup efforts, which account for most of the department’s budget.

HOMELAND SECURITY – By AP’s Eileen Sullivan

Obama has said he would add more personnel, infrastructure and technology to the border regions and crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, which is what the Bush administration is currently doing. Obama also said he would bring the 12 million people who are currently in the country “out of the shadows,” fine them, make them pay taxes and get them to the back of the line to become U.S. citizens.

Obama must decide whether to remove the Federal Emergency Management Agency from the Homeland Security Department and restore it as an independent agency. One of his top advisers, James Lee Witt, favors such a move, but other administration priorities may come first.

INTELLIGENCE – By AP’s Pamela Hess

Obama wants an overhaul of the human side of spying, and wants to give fixed terms to the national intelligence director’s office to buffer it from sudden changes in partisan leadership. He has expressed concerns with the size and scope of the office, created four years ago to oversee and knit together the nation’s 16 intelligence agencies. The office has grown dramatically since then.

Top officials have asked that intelligence structures_ the offices and roles now laid out in laws, after multiple post-9/11 reforms — remain stable.

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