Hard Work Ahead in Obama’s First 100 Days

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Before Barack Obama won the 2008 election, pundits and politicos were already planning his first 100 days in office. Since then, the situation in the United States has gotten worse and the urgent calls for reform have gotten louder. 

“No president in recent memory has come into office with so many and such varied crises to deal with,” John D. Donahue and Max Stier wrote for the Washington Monthly. Obama’s agenda includes, but is not limited to, averting a global recession, ending the war in Iraq, stabilizing Afghanistan, closing Guantanamo Bay, and “passing and (the hard part) implementing universal health care,” Donahue and Stier report. 

After a campaign based on such amorphous themes as “hope” and “change,” some expect the myriad problems to evaporate as soon as the new president takes office. “I think that we’ve replaced the housing bubble in the United States with an Obama bubble,” Steve Clemons, a senior fellow and director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation told Salon.com. Clemons and others are calling for quick, decisive action on foreign policy and other initiatives. According to Clemons, “He’s got a very short window to make the Obama bubble mean something before it explodes.”

A huge challenge for the incoming administration is deciding which issues should be dealt with first. Shirley Ann Jackson, writing for the Scientific American, has joined a multitude of scientists and environmentalists calling energy security, “the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity of our time.” In his first 100 days in office, Jackson wants Obama to update the national power grid, create a $200-billion “clean energy” bank for investment in sustainable energies, and “triple the currently paltry federal investment in basic and applied energy research and development.”

Though energy reform and foreign policy may garner big headlines, the most important tasks of the new administration may be the most mundane. Donahue and Stier report for the Washington Monthly that Obama should focus on fixing the federal bureaucracy, before moving on to bigger ticket items. “To put it bluntly” Donahue and Stier write, “even with brilliant policy ideas and flawless political instincts, Barack Obama’s administration is likely to fail if it doesn’t reverse the erosion in federal capacity.”

The disastrous example of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during Hurricane Katrina has shown what can go wrong when a federal agency is dysfunctional, and Donahue and Stier report that many important federal offices have fallen into disrepair. Donahue and Stier provide an urgent call to reform Medicare and Medicaid, the Office of Thrift Supervision, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Defense Contract Management Agency, the Defense Nuclear Detection Office, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and especially FEMA, now under the Department of Homeland Security.

Most people realize that Obama’s promised “change” won’t come overnight, and that’s not a bad thing, according to Mark Schmitt writing for the American Prospect. Many politicos and pundits urged Obama to hit the panic button at various points throughout the 2008 election, but the candidate won with “a long, patient strategy of assembling a majority of delegates, one at a time, in friendly and unfriendly states alike.” Schmitt writes that the President-elect will need to use that same patient style to truly turn the country around in 2009.

 Image by Ragesoss, licensed under Creative Commons.

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