In his first weeks in office, President Barack Obama shut down his predecessor’s system for reviewing regulations, realigned and expanded two key White House policymaking bodies and extended economic sanctions against parties to the conflict in the African nation of Cote D’Ivoire.
Despite the intense scrutiny a president gets just after the inauguration, Obama managed to take all these actions with nary a mention from the White House press corps.
The moves escaped notice because they were never announced by the White House Press Office and were never placed on the White House web site.
They came to light only because the official paperwork was transmitted to the Federal Register, a dense daily compendium of regulatory actions and other formal notices prepared by the National Archives. They were published there several days after the fact.
A Politico review of Federal Register issuances since Obama took office found three executive orders, one presidential memorandum, one presidential notice, and one proclamation that went unannounced by the White House.
Two of Obama actions on regulatory reform were spotted by bloggers, lobbying groups and trade publications after they emerged in the Federal Register.
There was no apparent rhyme or reason to the omissions. A proclamation Obama issued on February 2 for African-American History Month was e-mailed to the press and posted on the White House web site. But another presidential proclamation the same day for American Heart Month slipped by.
Such notices were routinely released by the White House press office during prior administrations — making their omission all the more unusual given Obama’s oft-repeated pledges of openness.
The documents were posted to the White House web site Tuesday night, after Politico inquired about their absence. “It was a simple oversight,” a spokesman, Ben LaBolt, said.
One order Obama signed Feb. 5 expanded the National Economic Council to 25 people by adding the Secretary of Health and Human Services; Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; senior adviser Valerie Jarrett; “climate czar” Carol Browner and two other officials.
Another order the president signed the same day added two slots to the Domestic Policy Council, bringing it to a total of 26 people. Some slots were reassigned. The chief was among those added to the panel, while “AIDS Policy Coordinator” was removed. It was unclear if that was a substantive change, simply reflected plans to keep the AIDS czar post at the State Department, or perhaps both.
Another Obama executive order, signed January 30, canceled two Bush-era executive orders relating to regulatory review. The White House did release chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s memo halting regulations in the works at federal agencies, but didn’t release another Obama memo setting a 100-day deadline for agency heads to recommend a new regulatory review process. The memo indicates that Obama may want to do some things differently on the regulatory front than the last Democrat in the White House, Bill Clinton.
Also waylaid was a notice Obama signed February 4 extending sanctions against some nationals of Cote D’Ivoire because of what he termed “the massacre of large numbers of civilians, widespread human rights abuses, significant political violence and unrest, and attacks against international peacekeeping forces leading to fatalities.”