Obama vows broad review of government

Senior politicians, former ambassadors, top business leaders and lawyers will lead special teams into US government agencies to prepare the ground for Barack Obama’s presidency, his office said.

An army of specialists — including senior members of former president Bill Clinton’s administration — is set to fan out across in the Treasury, State Department and Pentagon.

Even the White House will be scrutinized as the 450-strong transition team goes through more than 100 departments and agencies.

“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 is to provide Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, “with information needed to make strategic policy, budgetary and personnel decisions prior to the inauguration.”

Facing two wars and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, Obama wants to be able to implement policy changes as soon as he becomes president on January 20.

Obama has made it clear that the faltering economy will be his top priority.

So far Obama has only named his White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, but there has been fierce speculation as to 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 restructuring.

World leaders are preparing to descend on Washington starting Friday for a summit of the Group of 20 rich countries and major developing economies, called by Bush and dedicated to finding ways to reform the global finance system.

But those eager to meet the president-elect will be disappointed: Obama will not be attending the talks, respecting a long-standing convention that 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 the 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.

At the Pentagon, John White, former deputy secretary of defense from 1995 to 1997, will be in charge of the transition probe.

The Pentagon’s missile defense chief Trey Obering said Wednesday he was looking forward to reporting to Obama that the US anti-missile system was “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 Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been silent on rumors that Obama may be thinking about asking him to stay on.

Some changes in a new Obama administration are already taking shape.

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 honored to help Obama in any way, if called upon.

“It would be my honor 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.