RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A new executive branch will soon begin to take shape in Washington. Transition teams from Barack Obama's staff are going to all the government agencies, and President Bush says they'll have his, quote, "complete cooperation." Still, until President-elect Obama takes office, his teams will have to listen to and may clash with the Bush administration officials who remain in charge. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO: There's an office building in downtown Washington that looks nondescript except for one detail. In the last few weeks, concrete security barriers have gone up around the building. That's the only hint that this has just become a sort of shadow White House. From that building, Obama transition people have begun sending out what they call parachute teams. Those teams drop into every agency to figure out what the new president needs to do to take over.
Mr. ROBERT RABEN (President, The Raben Group, LLC): The task is anywhere from enormous to overwhelming.
SHAPIRO: Robert Raben is a consultant who's worked for Democrats in Congress and the Justice Department.
Mr. RABEN: Everybody at the top pretty much agrees we want to have an orderly transition. On the security side, there's a very strong desire, notwithstanding our significant disagreements, that you want a stable government.
SHAPIRO: Are we going to see a push by the Bush folks to get a final series of initiatives in place? And will we see the Obama transition folks pushing back against that?
Mr. RABEN: You've got the part they do down pretty well. The Bush administration runs the show until January 20 at noon. But there is a - I don't want to say it's mano to mano combat, but it's pretty close. It's the nerd's equivalent of mano a mano combat. There'll be strong and loud conversations in the general counsel offices throughout the agencies about what should happen between November 5, 2008, and January 20, 2009.
SHAPIRO: That power struggle began to take shape days before the election. The Department of Homeland Security sent out an all-staff memo. It says, "During this time of transition, DHS employees should continue to follow the direction and instructions of the current leadership." The memo says transition team members, quote, "are respected guests and are not federal employees." Employees are instructed not to answer questions from transition team members. Instead, the memo says, all questions should be directed to specially chosen point people in the department.
Mr. PAUL MCNULTY (Attorney, Baker & McKenzie LLP): Well, I think that is consistent with transition policy.
SHAPIRO: Paul McNulty is a Republican who went through the transition from President Bush to Clinton in 1992, and then from Clinton to the second President Bush in 2000.
Mr. MCNULTY: It's awkward at first. And there is some hesitation to embrace these folks coming in. But you have to get over that awkwardness, and then you begin to work more collaboratively.
SHAPIRO: About a hundred people from the Obama and McCain camps were given top-secret security clearances before the election. That way, the winner could start getting national security briefings right away. That's unprecedented. Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen was part of the Clinton transition team in 1992. She says the transition to Obama has much higher stakes because of the many national security issues involved.
Professor DAWN JOHNSEN (Law, Indiana University): He and President Bush have very different views on a range of issues, especially related to counterterrorism: closing Guantanamo, treatment of detainees, interrogation. And we need to start now during the transition making sure that the country is moving in the direction President-elect Obama wants to take the country.
SHAPIRO: The team has two and a half months and counting. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
MONTAGNE: And you can read more analysis of where the Obama administration may be headed at npr.org's political coverage.
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