President Bush, warning that terrorists “would like nothing more than to exploit this period of change,” said Thursday that he intends to talk to President-elect Barack Obama on Monday about issues that will face his administration, including the turmoil in the financial markets and the war in Iraq.
The White House is especially concerned that the nation will be vulnerable during the transition between the Bush and Obama administrations. In one sign of that, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, flew to Chicago to present Obama with his first top-secret intelligence briefing on Thursday.
“For the next 75 days, all of us must ensure that the next president and his team can hit the ground running,” Bush said, in an emotional speech to hundreds of employees of the executive branch on the South Lawn of the White House. He urged them to “conduct yourselves with the decency and professionalism that you have shown throughout my time in office.”
Bush has said he is determined to conduct an orderly transition. The White House wants to avoid a repeat of the kind of news reports that plagued President Bill Clinton when he left office amid questions about whether members of his staff, irked at having to turn their offices over to Republicans, removed the letter W from some computer keyboards.
To that end, Bush has established a formal transition council that has already sought advice from outside experts, among them a former Clinton chief of staff, Mack McLarty. In an interview Thursday, McLarty praised the effort as “more formal, more focused, more intense” than any he had seen, adding, “The times call for it.”
The administration is already providing transition offices in downtown Washington to the Obama team. Congress provided roughly $40 million for transition-related activities in an omnibus spending bill signed by Bush in September. The money includes $8.5 million for the General Services Administration, which will provide office space, computers, telephones and support services to the incoming administration.
Members of the Obama team are not federal employees and will therefore not have access to the secure government computers used by federal agencies, Bush administration officials said. But they will have access to e-mail and the Internet through a virtual private network.
The new law also provides $8 million for the executive office of the president, which will see a big increase in personnel work for officials entering and leaving the government; $5.7 million for the White House to prepare electronic records for transfer to the National Archives; $15 million for security costs associated with the inauguration; and about $600,000 to cover the cost of a pension, office space and other benefits for Bush after he leaves the White House.
The Bush-Obama transition is the first since the attacks of September 2001, and much of the work is being conducted with an eye toward national security. At the Department of Homeland Security, for instance, Elaine C. Duke, an undersecretary, is developing a “transition and succession plan” to be delivered to the Obama team by Dec. 1, as required by a 2007 law.