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Powerful executive orders give Obama sharp sword
Scripps Howard News Service


December 02, 2008

On Jan. 20, President Barack Obama could start changing America before the first inaugural ball.

By issuing executive orders, Obama can immediately roll back Bush administration policies or start on his agenda without waiting on Congress.

Bush used executive orders
as tool for war on terror

Scripps Howard News Service

Like several presidents, George W. Bush began using executive orders to unravel actions of his predecessor, but after Sept. 11, 2001, they became a major -- and sometimes controversial -- tool in the war on terrorism.

Through Nov. 24, President Bush had issued 281 executive orders compared to 363 by President Bill Clinton. Here are some of the Bush's most significant orders:

-The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives was created to expand the access of faith-based groups to government grants and programs on Jan. 29, 2001.

-Federal agencies were told to maintain "neutrality" between union and non-union federal contractors and Bush revoked Clinton order forming labor-management councils in federal agencies on Feb. 17, 2001.

-The Ready Reserve was ordered to active duty on Sept. 14, 2001.

-The government seized the U. S. property and blocked transactions of 13 named terrorists and 14 companies and Islamic-based charities on Sept. 24, 2001.

-The Office of Homeland Security was created to coordinate defense against terrorists on Oct. 8, 2001. Congress later created the Department of Homeland Security.

-Former presidents were given the authority to indefinitely review requests for disclosure of executive branch documents on Nov. 1, 2001.

-The Department of Defense was given the authority to hold al Qaeda suspects outside the United States and try them before military commissions on Nov. 13, 2001.

-Bush terminated an earlier executive order declaring a national emergency in Iraq on July 29, 2004.

-Sanctions against Libya were terminated on Sept. 20, 2004.

-After vetoing a bill expanding the use of embryonic stem cells in health research, Bush directed the Department of Health and Human Services to focus on other ways to create stem cells on June 20, 2007.

-Bush issued executive order clarifying how the CIA detains and interrogates terrorist suspects on July 20, 2007.

-Federal agencies were told to ignore congressional "earmarks" specified in conference reports on appropriations bills on Jan. 29, 2008.

-Nearly two decades of executive orders banning drilling for oil and natural gas off the country's shorelines were lifted by Bush on July 14, 2008.

Liberal groups, environmentalists and labor unions are pressing the Obama transition team to revoke a number of Bush's executive orders, from limits placed on stem cell research to the rules for questioning foreign terrorist suspects.

Presidents have been using executive power granted by Article 2 of the Constitution to change the nation since George Washington proclaimed the first Thanksgiving. There have been 13,479 executive orders, many as mundane as declaring that federal employees get off the day before Christmas.

Executive orders must be published in the Federal Register and there are limits on their use. They cannot be used to overturn laws or regulations. But they can make substantial changes to White House policy.

Obama transition spokeswoman Amy Brundage said, "President-elect Obama will honor the commitment he made during the campaign to review all executive orders, but this process has not yet begun and no decisions have yet been made."

Some environmental groups are up in arms over a recent Bush regulation to speed the extraction of oil shale deposits on 2 million acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

But because it is a regulation, Obama cannot repeal it by executive order, said Melissa Thrailkill, staff attorney for Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity. It could be overturned either by Congress or through a lengthy regulatory process.

It is not clear whether Obama plans to use executive orders to jump-start his economic policies or whether he will wait on Congress to act.

When President Franklin Roosevelt took office in the midst of the Great Depression he ordered Americans to turn their gold bullion into the Federal Reserve, and created the Civilian Conservation Corps and other government agencies by fiat.

It was Obama's favorite President, Abraham Lincoln, who began the practicing of formally numbering executive orders. Number One, on Oct. 20, 1862, created a civil court in Union-captured Louisiana.

Roosevelt used the most executive orders to make policy, issuing a record 3,466 during his 12 years in office.

Roosevelt's executive order forced defense contractors to hire African-Americans, but he sullied his civil rights record by ordering the internment of Japanese-Americans.

President Harry Truman ended desegregation of the armed forces with an executive order in 1948; President John F. Kennedy used one to bar discrimination with federally backed housing mortgages in 1962.

Not all executive orders are successful. A federal court overruled President Bill Clinton in 1995 when he tried to block federal contracts for companies that hired permanent replacements for striking workers.

The problem was Congress had already rejected a similar law on striker replacements, said Elaine Kamarck, who managed Clinton's "reinventing government" effort and who now is a lecturer on public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

"The rule of thumb is that you can't do something in an executive order that Congress decided it didn't want to do," said Kamarck.

But she thinks Obama could issue executive orders in a number of areas to help the economy, including modifying foreclosure rules on federally backed mortgages, without waiting on Congress

"It is a much faster and much easier and efficient way to move," said Kamarck.

One of the most ambitious agendas for Obama has been put forward by the Center for Progressive Reform, a liberal non-profit group. In a 40-page report, it called for Obama to order federal agencies to reduce their "carbon footprint" by 10 percent by 2013, to allow states to exceed federal health and safety standards, and to modify Bush's rules to encourage mining and hunting on federal lands.

"He could really make a big mark and do it in the first 100 days," said Rena Steinzor, the center's president.

Marty Coyne, a spokesman for the Institute for 21st Century Energy, an affiliate of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes Obama moves cautiously on the environmental/energy front.

"We expect the economy to take precedence. To the extent they focus on energy as an economic issue, we would like to see them make sure that their policies are in line with job creation and economic growth," said Coyne.


E-mail James W. Brosnan at woodybrosnan(at)
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