WASHINGTON, November 13 – An army of top-notch specialists is set to fan out across US government agencies to delve deep into the records and prepare for the arrival of president-elect Barack Obama on January 20.
Facing two wars and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, Obama will have to hit the ground running when he takes office, amid global and domestic expectations that he will swiftly institute a slew of landmark changes.
Obama’s transition team announced Wednesday that former Clinton administration officials, ambassadors, top business leaders and lawyers would head up the teams setting up in the Treasury, State Department and Pentagon.
No stone will be left overturned, and even the nooks and crannies of the White House will be probed with the 450-strong transition team set to scour more than 100 departments and agencies, his team vowed.
"The Agency Review teams will complete a thorough review of key departments, agencies and commissions of the United States government as well as the White House," the Obama team said in a statement.
The aim will be to provide the incoming president and his vice president, Joe Biden, "with information needed to make strategic policy, budgetary and personnel decisions prior to the inauguration."
The teams will be in place by the end of the week, and will gather enough data to ensure that from day one, when Obama takes over from President George W. Bush, his cabinet picks can "begin implementing signature policy initiatives immediately after they are sworn in."
So far Obama has only named his White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, amid fierce speculation of who might occupy key posts in Treasury, State and the Pentagon.
Heading up the Treasury agency review will be former Treasury staffer Josh Gotbaum, who now serves as an advisor to investment funds focusing on restructurings.
Obama has made it clear that the faltering economy will be his top priority.
World leaders are preparing to descend on Washington from Friday for a summit called by Bush and dedicated to finding ways to reform the global finance system.
But those eager to make Obama’s acquaintance will be disappointed, as the president-elect has stressed he will not be attending the talks of the Group of 20 rich countries and major developing economies, saying there can only be one president at a time.
Instead, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former Republican congressman Jim Leach will stand in for Obama and meet foreign delegations on the sidelines of the talks.
"This weekend’s summit is an important opportunity to hear from the leaders of many of the world’s largest economies," said senior Obama foreign policy advisor Denis McDonough in a statement.
With wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also high on the agenda, Obama named former assistant secretary of state for public affairs under Clinton, Tom Donilon, to head up the State Department review team.
And at the Pentagon, John White, former deputy secretary of defence from 1995 to 1997, will be in charge of the transition probe.
The Pentagon’s missile defence chief Trey Obering said Wednesday he was looking forward to reporting to Obama that the US anti-missile system is "workable," and to setting the president-elect’s mind at ease.
"Our testing has shown not only can we hit a bullet with a bullet, we can hit a spot on a bullet with a bullet," the lieutenant general told reporters by teleconference.
Obering is set to step down at the end of November, but his boss Defence Secretary Robert Gates has been silent on rumours Obama may be considering asking him to stay on.
Some changes in a new Obama administration are already coalescing.
When he takes office, Obama will lift a freeze on funding for global family planning programs imposed by the outgoing Bush administration, Democratic lawmaker Carolyn Maloney told reporters.
"We are about to see major cultural change in Washington," Maloney said.
Obama won backing from an unexpected quarter on Wednesday, when defeated Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin told CNN she would be honoured to help Obama in any way, if called upon.
"It would be my honour to assist and support our new president and the new administration, yes," she said.
US Vice President Dick Cheney will meanwhile welcome vice-president elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, for a private meeting at his official Naval Observatory residence on Thursday, Cheney’s spokeswoman Megan Mitchell said.