President Obama moved swiftly on Wednesday to impose new rules on Government transparency and ethics,using his first full day in office to freeze the salaries of his senior aides,mandate new limits on lobbyists and demand that the Government disclose more information.
Obama called the moves,which overturned two policies of his predecessor,a clean break from business as usual. The actions were another sign of the new Presidents effort to emphasise an across-the-board shift in priorities,values and tone.
For a long time now theres been too much secrecy in this city, Obama said at a swearing-in ceremony for senior officials at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building,adjacent to the White House. He added,Transparency and rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.
Obama and his team spent Wednesday grappling with matters as mundane as e-mail access and getting to work and as weighty as Senate confirmation of cabinet secretaries.
On Capitol Hill,Hillary Rodham Clinton was confirmed by the Senate as Obamas Secretary of State and later sworn in and it appeared that Timothy F Geithner,the Treasury Secretary nominee,was headed for confirmation. But Republicans forced a one-week delay in the vote on Obamas nominee for Attorney General,Eric H Holder Jr.
The transparency and ethics moves were set forth in two executive orders and three presidential memorandums; Obama signed them at the swearing-in ceremony with a left-handed flourish.
Obama effectively reversed a post-9/11 Bush administration policy,making it easier for Government agencies to deny requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act,and effectively repealed a Bush executive order that allowed former presidents or their heirs to claim executive privilege in an effort to keep records secret.
Starting today, Obama said,every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information,but those who seek to make it known.
Obama used his first day to send two messages that echoed themes from his campaign first,that he is intent on keeping his promises to run a clean and open Government; and,second,that he understands the pain Americans are feeling as a result of the economic crisis.
These executive orders are traditional for presidents we did them the first day as have others, said Dan Bartlett,who was counselor to Bush. But he has decided to put a finer point on it by elevating a clear theme from his campaign,which was,Were not going to do business as usual. I think its a smart move,and the type of thing that the public wants to hear right now.
In announcing the salary freeze,Obama effectively gave pay cuts to roughly 100 top executive branch officials,like the National Security Advisor,the Press Secretary and the White House Counsel,who earn more than $100,000 a year. Families are tightening their belts, Obama said,and so should Washington.
He also moved to fulfill his campaign pledge to end the so-called revolving door,the longstanding Washington practice whereby White House officials depart for the private sector and cash in on their connections by lobbying former colleagues.
In what ethics-in-Government advocates described as a particularly far-reaching move,Obama barred officials of his administration from lobbying their former colleagues for as long as I am President. He barred former lobbyists from working for agencies they had lobbied within the past two years and required them to recuse themselves from issues they had handled during that time.