Tuesday may have been devoted to ceremony for President Barack Obama, but Wednesday was all work. In his first morning on the job, Obama:
• Froze the salaries of roughly 100 White House staffers who make more than $100,000 a year.
• Established new rules for staff members dealing with lobbyists, and for those staffers who might become lobbyists later.
• Said his administration would interpret the Freedom of Information Act more broadly to improve government transparency.
• Ordered the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within a year, and mandated a review of the military tribunals under which suspected terrorists are tried and held.
It’s unlikely everyone will be pleased with all of the president’s first-day actions. For instance, we never have been as convinced as some of President George W. Bush’s critics that the Guantanamo prison was inherently evil. Some very bad people who want to destroy this country have been and are being held humanely there.
But we understand that Gitmo is a symbol of the way Bush dealt with terrorism, and that Obama made a campaign pledge to break with those policies. We only hope he has sound plans for continuing to protect this country from terrorist attacks, as the Bush administration has done the past seven years.
We can do nothing but cheer Obama’s order regarding the Freedom of Information Act.
Under President Bush, federal officials have looked for any reason to withhold information from the public. Obama wants them to err on the side of releasing information.
Freezing the White House salaries is largely a symbolic gesture, saving a minimal amount of money. But it is important when so many Americans are struggling financially.
Finally, there are few things Americans distrust as much as the connections between lobbyists and politicians. Obama’s order to prohibit his staff from accepting any gifts from lobbyists, and to spell out what they are allowed to lobby on if they leave the White House, won’t end the mistrust, but it’s a good start. If only members of Congress of both parties would follow his lead.
Whatever else he does in the troubled times ahead, Obama showed Tuesday that “change” was not just empty campaign rhetoric.