David Reynolds | Dear President-elect
Before we go any further let me say that I did not vote for you. I do not care who you hung around with in Chicago, where you went to church and what Michelle wrote in her Princeton Senior Thesis.
Most importantly, I don’t care what is the color of your skin. Obviously, the press does. But that is their problem. Hopefully, not yours. Certainly, not mine.
The American people have given you a tough job. However, the pay is not bad, your family will have good quarters and, best of all, will be your commute to the office.
Finally our Constitution will come into play. It allows for only one president at a time. On Jan.20, 2009 you will be that one. This will be a far superior arrangement than we had during the past endless campaign. Having multiple presidents is disturbing.
I wish you and your administration the very best. I have a selfish reason for saying this – when our presidents succeed, our nation succeeds. Your In Box will be full. However, I have the impression that is why you ran. Still, are you sure you want two big problems hitting you on your first day at work – how to finish a war and how to put the economy back together again?
Now that we have cleared the air on the big stuff, let’s move on and sweat over other not so small stuff. That is the business of being in charge of the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government.
Last week I was up in your new hometown, which happens to be my old hometown. Everybody there was giving you unsolicited advice, mainly of the self serving variety. But, as a U.S. Senator, you know about those with Potomac fever. However, what you may not know sitting up on Capitol Hill is how business is conducted downtown. And the fact that most presidents fail to control the only branch of government that they are constitutionally charged with controlling!
Here are a few “inside baseball” tips I wish to pass on to get executive agencies to tow the Obama line.
Mainly, do what you did in your campaign: tight organization with mature individuals in charge. If you can run a campaign, you can control the bureaucrats downtown. Except for one big stumbling block: Few in the Executive Branch have the same degree of loyalty to their president as you had from your campaign staff. In Washington everyone has their own agenda. That agenda usually swirls around the special interests that link congressional committees, agency heads and their lobbyists. It is called an “iron triangle” because it is so hard to break up.
So the question becomes: How can you break up this iron triangle in order to get what you want done? Your first step is to fully staff the White House and other key Executive Office of the President (EOP) positions. Give jobs to those who will be comfortable working with cabinet and agency heads, right down to the Deputy Assistant Secretary level.
Then take advantage of the confirmation process for your cabinet appointments. Privately tell committee staff to go slow on scheduling hearings! That is, hold off until you get all your loyalists on board. Then make sure during and after confirmation that you have “one of your people” taking notes so that there is no deviation from your presidential line. Yes, this is a necessary step, especially keeping in tow those who are anticipating a call concerning their next job, not a call from the White House.
A few more tips. Keep your policy initiatives simple, few in number and easy to interpret. By so doing your Office of Management and Budget staff can handle most of the agencies’ budget appeals. There will be little need to touch base with you. As for the next budget, have your own by April. The outgoing president’s budget is always DOA. And how about early on trying to meet face-to-face with as many foreign leaders as possible? When a crisis arises, that important telephone call will have a clearer connection. Also remember that implementing a major policy is easier when done in small steps. For example, health care can be initially tackled by a budget reconciliation act involving doctors’ fees under Medicare. Donald W. Moran, formerly of OMB (1981-86), can fill you in with the details and provide more tips. Yes, another conservative wants you to succeed!
Before closing there is a major misgiving on my mind. It has been there for fifty years. An Executive Order can take care of it. It shall forbid any racial or ethnic classifications starting with the 2010 Census. If you do this one simple act, then the press for a change will have it right. Your election will have been truly historic. Good luck.
David F. Reynolds