The Day After

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Today, the Obama transition moves to its fourth and final phase– the time after the Inauguration.  This phase will last a number of months and be the most exciting part of the whole transition period.  After all, the training wheels are off!

 

The new White House website was turned on.  The predictable directive freezing all regulatory actions was signed.  And key White House staff were sworn into office today.

 

The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe’s article “Tips on Presidential Appointments” describes how most political appointments take place after the inauguration. Citing a report by the Center for American Progress, he notes that one-quarter of the presidentially appointed positions were vacant at any one point in time and that it took on average 173 days for a nomination to be submitted for non-cabinet secretary positions and 63 days for Senate confirmation of those nominated.  The report offers six suggestions to minimize the length of vacancies, such as getting a commitment from the person being nominated to remain for the president’s entire term in office.

 

The Post’s Anne Kornblut, in a separate story, “Transition Signals a Centrist Approach in Obama White House,” that cites a swift, seamless transition without a lot of drama. Quoting President-elect Obama: ““I think people should just remember what we have accomplished here: We put a Cabinet and White House staff in place in record time in the midst of the biggest emergency since World War II. [We] operationalized that team to produce mammoth legislation that we have essentially been helping Congress to drive three weeks before I am even sworn in. That’s a pretty good track record.”

 

The Congressional Quarterly is calling it quits on its transition blog, saying it will be back shortly with a new blog called “Balance of Power.”  The IBM Center’s blog sees the transition as largely just beginning!  So we’ll be around a bit longer!

 

Georgetown University is sponsoring a “Transition 2009:  A Conference About Change” featuring transition team members, policy experts, and academics offering insights into the new administration and the 111th Congress.  Speakers include David Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, Andrew Card, former Bush chief of staff, and Thomas “Mack” McLarty, former Clinton chief of staff.  February 12-13 at the National Press Club.  Register at www.guconferences.com . Fee:  $895.

 

Note:  I was one of the Purple Ticket holders who didn’t get to see the Inauguration Ceremony.  The part of the crowd I was in was in a fairly festive, if not happy, mood.  Sure glad I’m local DC and didn’t travel from California, Texas, Illinois, and other parts of the country like many of my fellow ticketholders.  I still thought it was an historic day and felt privileged to be in the area.  Still, I thought it amusing that by this morning – less than 24 hours later – there was a Facebook page with more than 600 fellow commiseraters.   Technology really knows how to take grievances to a new level!  Sure am glad I wasn’t part of the crowd diverted to stand in the 3rd Street Tunnel.

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One Response to “The Day After”

  1. Gilbert Jennings Says:

    I am pleased that we have this president. I am also pleased that we have a president that is willing to give the American public a voice. I am more pleased that the following suggestions will at least have a chance to be read. My suggestions follow in line with helping cure this nation and saving untold millions of dollars for our states annually. I sent these suggestions to as many governors as possible a couple of years ago and only received the canned letters, “We appreciate your interest and suggestions. “At the oppotune time I will see what can be done”.

    Following are the suggestions:

    1. I suggested that all the utility companies (gas, electric, water, communications, cables, any any other essential service) be put under ground. These service providers can form a co-op to share the cost. They should recope their costs by not having to go out and repair storm damaged utilities to restore service. From December 9 – 13 2007, We here in Oklahoma suffered one of the nation’s worst ice storms in recent history. Over 650,000 homes were without power and communications for over three weeks. Think of the cost to the state. Rightr now, the north east and south central are suffering a simular ice storm. The cost? Take a guest.

    2. I also suggested that those states that are succeptable to flooding should build a water recovery and storage system. Along with this, all states should have a piping system to send, receive, or reroute water to those states that suffer from dry, minimum water, to drought-like conditions. The west coast burns every year and untold millions of dollars are needed to fight fires in addition to the millions lost. If we can build a pipelind from Alaska to the lower 48, we can build a national network for getting water where it is needed most. Managed correctly, water in this way can earn as much as $5.00. Those states needed to route water to a specific location should be paid.

    Talk about long term, projects such as these should keep many many people employed for a very long time. The conditions and needs are not unlikd the WPA and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal”

    The Works Progress Administration
    Jim Couch, University of North Alabama
    Introduction: The Great Depression and the New Deal
    The Great Depression stands as an event unique in American history due to both its length and severity. With the unprecedented economic collapse, the nation faced “an emergency more serious than war” (Higgs 1987, p. 159). The Depression was a time of tremendous suffering and at its worst, left a quarter of the workforce unemployed. During the twentieth century, the annual unemployment rate averaged double-digit levels in just eleven years. Ten of these occurred during the Great Depression.

    A confused and hungry nation turned to the government for assistance. With the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on March 4, 1933, the federal government’s response to the economic emergency was swift and massive. The explosion of legislation — which came to be collectively called the New Deal — was designed, at least in theory, to bring a halt to the human suffering and put the country on the road to recovery. The president promised relief, recovery and reform.

    Although the Civil Works Administration (CWA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the National Recovery Administration (NRA) were all begun two years earlier, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) became the best known of the administration’s alphabet agencies. Indeed, for many the works program is synonymous with the entire New Deal. Roosevelt devoted more energy and more money to the WPA than to any other agency (Charles 1963, p. 220). The WPA would provide public employment for people who were out of work. The administration felt that the creation of make-work jobs for the jobless would restore the human spirit, but dignity came with a price tag — an appropriation of almost $5 billion was requested. From 1936 to 1939 expenditures totaled nearly $7 billion. Annual figures are given in Table 1.

    Table 1
    WPA Expenditures
    Year Expenditure
    1936 $1,295,459,010
    1937 $1,879,493,595
    1938 $1,463,694,664
    1939 $2,125,009,386

    Source: Office of Government Reports, Statistical Section, Federal Loans and Expenditures, Vol. II, Washington, D.C., 1940.

    WPA Projects and Procedures
    The legislation that created the WPA, the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 sailed through the House, passing by a margin of 329 to 78 but bogged down in the Senate where a vocal minority argued against the measure. Despite the opposition, the legislation passed in April of 1935.

    Harry Hopkins headed the new organization. Hopkins became, “after Roosevelt, the most powerful man in the administration” (Reading 1972, pp. 16-17). All WPA administrators, whether assigned to Washington or to the agency’s state and local district offices, were employees of the federal government and all WPA workers’ wages were distributed directly from the U.S. Treasury (Kurzman 1974, p. 107). The WPA required the states to provide some of their own resources to finance projects but a specific match was never stipulated — a fact that would later become a source of contentious debate.

    The agency prepared a “Guide to Eligibility of WPA Projects” which was made available to the states. Nineteen types of potentially fundable activities were described ranging from malaria control to recreational programs to street building (MacMahon, Millet and Ogden 1941, p. 308).

    Hopkins and Roosevelt proposed that WPA compensation be based on a “security wage” which would be an hourly amount greater than the typical relief payment but less than that offered by private employers. The administration contended that it was misleading to evaluate the programs’ effects solely on the basis of wages paid — more important were earnings through continuous employment. Thus, wages were reported in monthly amounts.

    Wages differed widely from region to region and state-to-state. Senator Richard Russell of Georgia explained, “In the State of Tennessee the man who is working with a pick and shovel at 18 cents an hour is limited to $26 a month, and he must work 144 hours to earn $26. Whereas the man who is working in Pennsylvania has to work only 30 hours to earn $94, out of funds which are being paid out of the common Treasury of the United States” (U.S. House of Representatives 1938, p. 913). Recurring complaints of this nature led to adjustments in the wage rate that narrowed regional differentials to more closely reflect the cost of living in the state.

    Robert Margo argues that federal relief programs like the WPA may have exacerbated the nation’s unemployment problem. He presents evidence indicating that the long-term unemployed on work relief were “not very responsive to improved economic conditions” while the long-term unemployed not on work relief “were responsive to improved economic conditions” (Margo 1991:339). Many workers were afraid of the instability associated with a private-sector job and were reluctant to leave the WPA. As Margo explains, “By providing an alternative to the employment search (which many WPA workers perceived, correctly or not, to be fruitless), work relief may have lessened downward pressure on nominal wages” (p. 340). This lack of adjustment of the wage rate may have slowed the economy’s return to full employment.

    The number of persons employed by the WPA is given in Figure 1. Gavin Wright points out that “WPA employment reached peaks in the fall of election years” (Wright 1974, p. 35).

    Figure 1 – Number of Persons Employed by WPA
    1936-1941
    (in thousands)

    Source: Wright (1974), p. 35.

    The work done by the organization stands as a tribute to the WPA. Almost every community in America has a park, bridge or school constructed by the agency. As of 1940, the WPA had erected 4,383 new school buildings and made repairs and additions to over 30,000 others. More than 130 hospitals were built and improvements made to another 1670 (MacMahon, Millet and Ogden 1941, pp. 4-5). Nearly 9000 miles of new storm drains and sanitary sewer lines were laid. The agency engaged in conservation work planting 24 million trees (Office of Government Reports 1939, p. 80). The WPA built or refurbished over 2500 sports stadiums around the country with a combined seating capacity of 6,000,000 (MacMahon, Millet and Ogden 1941. pp. 6-7).

    Addressing the nation’s transportation needs accounted for much of the WPA’s work. By the summer of 1938, 280,000 miles of roads and streets had been paved or repaired and 29,000 bridges had been constructed. Over 150 new airfields and 280 miles of runway were built (Office of Government Reports 1939, p. 79).

    Because Harry Hopkins believed that the work provided by the WPA should match the skills of the unemployed, artists were employed to paint murals in public buildings, sculptors created park and battlefield monuments, and actors and musicians were paid to perform. These white-collar programs did not escape criticism and the term “boondoggling” was added to the English language to describe government projects of dubious merit.

    Work relief for the needy was the putative purpose of the WPA. Testifying before the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Unemployment and Relief in 1938, Corrington Gill — Assistant to WPA administrator Harry Hopkins — asserted, “Our regional representatives . . . are intimately in touch with the States and the conditions in the States” (U.S. Senate 1938, p. 51).

    The Roosevelt administration, of course, asserted that dollars were allocated to where need was the greatest. Some observers at the time, however, were suspicious of what truly motivated the New Dealers.

    I know this is a daunting task but we have put men on the moon, and now have the appetite to free this nation from foreign fuels, so why not make it the model nation on the planet again?

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