Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Some things are changing in Washington

If the transfer of presidential power seems chaotic to me, I can only imagine what's going on backstage in Washington, D.C.

From watching President Barack Obama's first week in office on television, the transition would seem to be smooth and largely ceremonial.

Not so if you're actually trying to do some reporting that relates to the federal government.
I'm sure the process repeats itself every time there's a new president, but this is the first time I've had to deal with the federal bureaucracy during such a change.

Last week, I was working on an article about the proposed dam removal along the Klamath River, in which the Interior Dept. is involved.

The problem was, all the old hands who were familiar with the Klamath saga were gone, and the new folks were probably still figuring out where to hang their coats and how to get to the bathroom.

As for the lower-level bureaucrats who deal with the issues on a day-to-day basis, regardless of the administration, the situation wasn't much better.

They were still waiting to see what approach their new bosses would take to the problem.
Another problem came up today, when I was trying to figure out the implications of a new Environmental Protection Agency rule that pertains to emissions from livestock manure.
Apart from the complexity of the regulation itself, it was unclear whether or not the rule had actually taken effect. That's because Obama suspended all pending regulations, and those that hadn't yet taken effect when he entered office.

The problem is, the rule I was writing about took effect the same day Obama was sworn in. Everybody I talked to had a differing opinion about whether or not the rule was suspended. Even the Environmental Protection Agency didn't know.

I'm sure that all this confusion will be sorted out once the dust has a chance to settle. I'm just curious to see how long that will take.

Hopefully, once it does, the new administration will be able to bring some efficiency to the public affairs process. To be honest, though, the signs so far haven't been very optimistic.

Yesterday, I called a federal agency to get some historical statistics. I got a hold of the person who handled the statistics, but she wasn't able to talk to me without permission from the agency's public affairs department. When I called the public affairs people, they weren't available to talk. By the time I got a call back three hours later, I'd found the statistics on my own.

This is a charade I've played many times during the Bush administration, and I have a feeling it's a truly non-partisan phenomenon.

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