Aptly-named "agency review teams" for President-elect Barack Obama are swooping into federal agencies and asking hard questions about where the bodies are buried and who buried them.
With unprecedented swiftness the teams of at least 10 people, try to identify problems within the agencies and ways to deal with the problems before Obama takes office on Jan. 20, 2009.
And they are doing it, apparently, with the full cooperation of the Bush White House, something also unprecedented for Presidential transition.
Washington watchers say this, as much as anything the President-elect has done to date, signals change is coming.
Wearing yellow badges and traveling in groups of 10 or more, agency review teams for President-elect Barack Obama have swarmed into dozens of government offices, from the Pentagon to the National Council on Disability.
With pointed questions and clear ground rules, they are dissecting agency initiatives, poring over budgets and unearthing documents that may prove crucial as a new Democratic president assumes control. Their job is to minimize the natural tension between incoming and outgoing administrations, but their work also is creating anxiety among some Bush administration officials as the teams rigorously examine programs and policies.
Lisa Brown, who served as counsel to Vice President Al Gore and is helping manage the reviews, said typical questions include: "Which is the division that has really run amok? Or that has run out of money? If someone is confirmed, what’s going to be on their desk from Day One? What are the main things that need to happen, vis-a-vis Obama’s priorities?"
Every presidential changeover includes some type of review of the federal landscape, but some have succeeded more than others, experts say. Obama’s teams — 135 people divided into 10 groups, along with a list of other advisers — started earlier than most, gearing up months before Election Day with preliminary planning, and will work until mid-December preparing reports to guide the White House, Cabinet members and other senior officials.
The team members include Democratic Party loyalists jockeying for senior administration jobs and subject experts in areas ranging from military systems to Medicare policy.
The Obama teams say they have benefited from a commitment by the Bush White House to cooperate as fully as possible to ease the shift.