We don't know how President-elect Barack Obama would have voted on The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA) because he was not yet in the U.S. Senate. But we do know he is benefiting from it. Section 3 of the act created a process for expediting security clearances for executive appointees, including the president-elect's secretaries of state, energy, homeland security, and justice, among many others. As a result, Obama is on a fast track to completing the naming of his top officials by this coming weekend-and to setting a record for having top-level officials in place prior to his inauguration.
As The Wall Street Journal points out, by the end of his 11th and final transition week, "George H.W. Bush had named 26 senior executives and White House staff. Richard Nixon had named 25. After Week Seven, Mr. Obama had named 69 and has started to appoint officials below the top layer."
Obama has President Bush and a Republican-led Congress to thank for it. Against opposition from the ACLU and key liberal Senators like Robert Byrd (an early endorsee of Obama) who said IRTPA and its companion, the Patriot Act, ceded too much authority to the executive, they saw the urgency of reorganizing intelligence agencies and much of government in the wake of 9/11. One of the key and overlooked provisions of IRTPA, which reorganized national intelligence agencies and streamlined security-clearance procedures, was to ensure swift transition of power at a time when the United States might otherwise be vulnerable to attack-like now.
The benefit to the incoming Obama administration is ironic, considering that Bush, with no way of knowing he was headed into a national security crisis, had a late start on transition due to the contested election of 2000. And he inherited a poor example in the Clinton administration, which by most accounts bungled transmission of intelligence data related to al-Qaeda and failed to bring Bush appointees into security briefings until late December. Bush, by contrast, began transition meetings with both the McCain and Obama campaigns in September. And Obama began receiving the same highly classified presidential briefings as President Bush two days after he was elected president in November.
Six weeks into transition and with less than a month to go before inauguration, we are vulnerable as a nation in transition. Let's hope that benefiting from a tighter security approach in Washington, which many Democrats have criticized, will have a sobering effect on the incoming Obama team.