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I first wrote about Obama's Review Teams here.  Now details on their work are starting to emerge:

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?"-- Washington Post

The Review Teams are made up of 135 people divided into ten groups:

  1.  Economics and International Trade
  1.  National Security
  1.  Justice and Civil Rights
  1.  Energy and Natural Resources
  1.  Education and Labor
  1.  Department of Health and Human Services
  1.  Science, Tech, Space and Arts [note:  is this cool or what?]
  1.  Executive Office of the President
  1.  Government Operations
  1.  Transportation

Armed with clear goals and an intimate knowledge of how the federal agencies work, each Team dissects them with scalpel-like precision.  The WaPo article cited Lisa Jackson and Robert Sussman, two leaders of the Energy and Natural Resources Team who both worked at the agency under President Clinton, as a typical way the Review Teams operate. Jackson and Sussman asked specific questions about climate change, with an eye on addressing it via EPA program initiatives.  They also focused on drinking water standards and how much funding enforcement divisions would need to hold polluters accountable.

Also notable is how the Review Teams not just focus on policy; they also interview workers to give the latter a chance to share their knowledge and grievances about program-funding difficulties and "bosses they did not like".

The Review Teams are so thorough that in spite of agreed upon ground rules and the supposedly stellar cooperation from the Bush Administration to make the transition as smooth as possible, the article noted how the Review Teams are still making a lot of people nervous:

At the Transportation Department, Rose McMurray, assistant administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, initially urged staff members to quickly alert a senior policy manager about questions from transition team members so that management could ensure the answers were correct and "suitable for release."

Gus Coldebella, acting general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security, told his staffers in a Nov. 19 memo that they should think carefully before talking about anything with their transition guests. He also stressed that issues involving the White House should not be discussed without consultation.

Yeah, I'll be shaking in my boots too, if I were them.  Too bad a thorough house-cleaning is long overdue, and the President-Elect means business.

Update [8:10 PST]:

Wow, this is the second time you guys promoted one of my diary entries to the rec list.  Thank you.

I've heeded bustacap's comment and substantially altered the original post to comply with Fair Use rules.  Thanks for calling my attention to this.

My tip jar is here.

Also:

WaPo blogger Doug Feaver picked up the same article, and noted that "[s]ome offices are more welcoming than others. Some outgoing officials have clearly attempted to stifle honest and open sharing of information." He also noted several interesting comments/suggestions from his readers, most of whom are in government, that "suggest targets for special inquiry... express hope for the future ...express fear of a witch hunt." Definitely worth a read.

Many commenters on this diary entry wondered if this or that agency will also get a closer look.  My understanding is, every single one of them will get an exhaustive scrutiny, even if the Review Teams' names don't mention them in particular. For example, two leaders of the Science, Tech, Space and Arts Review Team -- net neutrality advocates both -- will review the FCC.  Another leader of the Department of Health and Human Services Team will review Social Security.

Plus:

Commenter El Fuego works at a sub-level cabinet agency that's already been visited by one of the Review Teams and talks about how impressed he was at the level of interest it showed. Perhaps you can write a diary and tell us more, El Fuego?

Commenter birdbrain64 says he knows someone from one of these teams. Perhaps you can interview this person and write a diary about it, too?

And last but not least, Mother of Zeus summed up in her eloquent comment why the Review Teams' work is a big deal:

This is like Christmas coming early for me.  Call me a nerd, but to me this is the essence of being able to govern.

And when people have continually asked me "well, what does this 'change' thing really mean, anyway?", now I can point them to this.  THIS is what change really looks like, on the ground.  A dozen highly intelligent and competent people with yellow badges scrutinizing the nuts and bolts, laying the foundation for honest, transparent work, setting a high bar for excellence up and down the bureaucratic ladder.  No change can come without this.

A. frakkin'. men.

Change, indeed, has come to Washington.

Originally posted to wonkymuse on Wed Dec 03, 2008 at 02:00 AM PST.

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