The Obama Record- Year 1


(January 20, 2009 – December 31, 2009)

Robert P. Watson, Ph.D.
Lynn University

There is a lot of misinformation circulating on talk radio, at town hall meetings, in the blogosphere, and around office water coolers about President Obama not accomplishing anything in his first year in office. It is time to set the record straight with a list of Obama’s initiatives for 2009.

Ordered the White House and all federal agencies to respect the Freedom of Information Act; Bush era limits on accessibility of federal documents have been overturned
Instructed all federal agencies to promote openness and transparency as much as possible
Placed limits on lobbyists’ access to the White House
Placed limits on White House aides working for lobbyists after their tenure in the administration
Signed a measure strengthening registration and reporting requirements for lobbyists
Ordered that lobbyists must be removed from and are no longer permitted to serve on federal and White House advisory panels

Held many more press conferences and provided the media with far more access than his predecessor
Held more “town hall events to inform and engage the public than previous administrations
The White House website now provides information on all economic stimulus projects and spending, along with an unprecedented amount of information on our government

Ended the Bush era practice of circumventing established FDA rules for political reasons
Ended the Bush era practice of having White House staff rewrite the findings of scientific and environmental regulations and reports when they disagreed with the results
The Obamas did not use the $100,000 authorized (to all First Families) for the refurbishment and redecoration of the White House’s private living quarters; they paid for it out of their own pockets
The Obamas reused Christmas ornaments from previous White House trees rather than buy new ones
Limited the salaries of senior White House aides (salaries cut to $100,000)
Urging Congress to return to the pre-Bush practice of “Pay-Go” (whereby each dollar of spending is offset by a dollar in cuts or in revenues)

National Security
Phasing out the expensive F-22 war plane (which wasn’t even used in Iraq/Afghanistan) and other outdated weapons systems
Closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay
Attempting to house terrorists at a new federal “super max” facility in the US
Cut the expensive missile defense program, saving $1.4 billion in 2010
Cancelled plans to station anti-ballistic missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic
Replacing long-range, expensive missile systems with more efficient smaller systems
Increased US Navy patrols off the Somali coast in response to pirating
Established a new cyber security office and appointed a cyber security czar
Ordered the first nation-wide comprehensive cyber threat assessment

Iraq & Afghanistan
• Began the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq
Authorized the use of more unmanned warplanes/drones (Predator, Reaper, etc.) in Iraq/Afghanistan
Authorized the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, which had been pending for months during the previous administration [March 2009]
Changed the US military command in the Afghan conflict
Tasked the Pentagon to reorganized US policy in Afghanistan; 30,000 additional troops are being deployed, the US is prioritizing the training of Afghan forces and civil government while developing agriculture and infrastructure, aerial bombing has been limited, etc.
• Ordered the Pentagon to send additional helicopters to assist marines and special forces in Afghanistan
Increased special forces searches for, and unmanned drone strikes on, Taliban and al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan
• Ended the Bush era “stop-loss” policy that kept soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan longer than their enlistment date

Military & Veterans
Ordered that families of fallen soldiers can have expenses covered to be on hand when the body arrives back in the US
Ended the Bush era “blackout” imposed on media coverage of the return of fallen US soldiers; the media is now permitted to do so pending adherence to respectful rules and approval of fallen soldier’s family
Ended the Bush era “black out” policy on media coverage of war casualties – full information is now released
Ordered better body armor to be procured for US troops
Funding new Mine Resistant Ambush Vehicles (needed because of susceptibility of hummers to roadside explosives)
Increasing pay and benefits for military personnel
Improving housing for military personnel
Initiating a new policy to promote federal hiring of military spouses
Ordered that conditions at Walter Reed Military Hospital and other neglected military hospitals be improved
Beginning the process of reforming and restructuring the military (initiated by Bush but abandoned after the war in Iraq began) 20 years after the Cold War to a more modern fighting force… this includes new procurement policies, increasing size of military, new technology and cyber units and operations, etc.
Ended the Bush era practice of awarding no-bid defense contracts
Improving benefits for veterans as well as VA staffing, information systems, etc.
Authorized construction for additional health centers to care for veterans
Suspended the Bush-era decision to purchase an expensive fleet of Marine One (helicopters) from foreign sources
Ordered a review of the existing “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military

Foreign Policy & International Relations
Closed the Bush era “secret detention” facilities in Eastern Europe
Ended the Bush era policy allowing “enhanced interrogation” (torture) and the US is in compliance with Geneva Convention standards
Restarted international nuclear non-proliferation talks (Bush withdrew from them) and reestablished international nuclear inspection protocols
Reengaged in the treaties/agreements to protect the Antarctic
Reengaged in the agreements/talks on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions suspended under Bush
Visited more countries and met with more world leaders than any president in his first six months in office
Banned the export of cluster bombs
• Overturned Bush era plans to increase the US nuclear arsenal
Authorized the Navy SEALS operation that freed by force the US shipping captain held by Somali pirates
Restored the US commitment to the UN population fund for family planning that was suspended during the Bush era
Instituted a new policy on Cuba, allowing Cuban families to return “home” to visit loved ones
Extended an offer of engagement (free from sanctions and penalties) to Iran through December 31, 2009 (Iran did not accept the offer)
Sent envoys to the Middle East and other parts of the world, reengaging in multilateral and bilateral talks and diplomacy
Authorized discussions with North Korea and the private mission by former president, Bill Clinton, to secure the release of two Americans held in prisons
Authorized discussions with Myanmar and the mission by Senator Jim Web to secure the release of an American held captive
Renewed loan guarantees for Israel
Signed the USIFTA trade agreement with/for Israel
Authorized a $550m advance for Israel (six months prior to the scheduled date) in order to accommodate Israeli’s economic and financial needs
Continued agreements with Israel for cultural exchanges, immigration, etc.
Spoke on Arab television, spoke at an Egyptian university, and met with Arab leaders in an effort to change the tone of US-Arab relations
Ordered the US to finally pay its dues to the United Nations

Increased infrastructure spending (roads, bridges, power plants…) years of neglect during the Bush era
Authorized the US Auto industry rescue plan and two GMAC rescue packages
Authorized the housing rescue plan and new FHA residential housing guarantees
Authorized a $789 billion economic stimulus plan
Instituted a new rule allowing the public to meet with federal housing insurers to refinance (in as quickly as one day) a mortgage if they are having trouble paying
Authorized a continuation of the US financial and banking rescue plans initiated at the end of the Bush administration and authorized TARP funds to buy “toxic assets” from failing financial institutions
• Signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which provides small tax cuts for 95% of “working families”
Authorized the “Cash for Clunkers” program that helped stimulate auto sales (with the related environmental/energy benefit of getting old, inefficient, polluting cars off the road)
Ordered the closing of offshore tax safe havens (for individual and business tax evaders)
Convened a “jobs summit” to bring experts together to develop ideas for creating jobs
Negotiated a deal with Swiss banks to permit the US government to gain access to records of tax evaders and criminals
• Ordered the FDIC to beef up deposit insurance
Ended the previous policy of offering tax benefits to corporations who outsource American jobs; the new policy uses the savings to promote in-sourcing investments to bring jobs back to the US
Convened an advisory board that is looking into simplifying the tax code
Ended the Bush era policy of protecting credit card companies; in place of it are new consumer protections from the credit card industry’s predatory practices
Authorized the federal government to make more loans available to small businesses and ordered lower rates for federal loans to small businesses
After former presidents of both parties refused such action (George W. Bush refused four times), Obama placed a 35% tariff on Chinese tires and a few other products such as pipes after China was found to be illegally “dumping” exports below cost
In November 2009, Obama extended unemployment benefits for one million workers
In November 2009, Obama extended the Home Buyers Credit for first-time home buyers and expanded coverage for some existing homeowners who are buying again
Reduced taxes for some small businesses to stimulate the economic recovery

Ordered all federal agencies to undertake a study and make recommendations for ways to cut federal spending
Ordered a review of all federal operations to identify wasteful spending and practices
• Established a National Performance Officer charged with saving the federal government money and making federal operations more efficient (the NPO reports to the director of the Office of Management & Budget)
• Overturned the Bush-era practice of not listing certain federal programs in the federal budget (in an effort to hide programs and make the budget look smaller); such “off budget” items are now included in the annual budget
• This includes appropriations for war
• This includes emergency appropriations

Removed Bush era restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research
Offering federal support for stem-cell and new biomedical research
Expanded the SCHIP program to cover health care for 4 million more children
Established an independent commission to make recommendations on slowing the costs of Medicare
Reversed the Bush era restrictions that prevented Medicare from negotiating with pharmaceuticals for cheaper drugs; now the government can again competitively bid
Expanding vaccination programs
Issued new disease prevention guidelines and priorities for the CDC
Authorized the FDA to finally begin regulating tobacco
Tasked federal labs to prioritize research on and deployment of H1N1 vaccines
Asked multiple congressional committees to bring forward a healthcare reform bill that attempts to increase coverage and affordability; he supported holding many hearings and town halls on the issue

Energy & Environment
Removed a ruling that now allows individual states to enact automotive fuel efficiency standards above federal standards
Offered attractive tax write-offs for those who buy hybrid automobiles
• Overturned Bush-era rule to weaken the Endangered Species Act
Announced plans to purchase fuel efficient American-made fleet for the federal government
Ended the Bush era policy of not regulating and labeling carbon dioxide emissions
Signed a measure requiring energy producing plants to begin producing 15% of their energy from renewable sources
The Obamas used LED energy-saving lights on White House Christmas tree
• Announced that the federal government would reengage in the long-delayed effort to clean up “Superfund” toxic waste sites
Announced the long-term development of a national energy grid with renewable sources and cleaner, efficient energy production
• Proposed a new refuge for Wild mustangs
• Cancelled several Bush-era mountain-top removal and mining permits
• Reengaged in international treaties and agreements to protect the Antarctic
Asked Congress for energy reform and “cap and trade”
• Developing plan to lease US coastal waters for wind and water current energy production
• Overturned Bush-era policies that allowed uranium mining near national parks such as the Grand Canyon
• Expanded the Petrified Forest National Park
• Signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act that protects millions of acres of scenic, historic, and recreational lands and trails
• Requiring that government buildings and facilities be retrofitted to save energy costs
Authorized studies in several western states to determine how to support large-scale solar installations
• Attended the Copenhagen talks and, after the talks were stalled, negotiated an international (voluntary) agreement on reducing carbon emissions and raising funds to assist developing nations in offsetting carbon emissions

Instituted enforcements for equal pay for women (Lilly Ledbetter Bill)
Appointed the first Latina to the Supreme Court
Held the first Seder in White House
• Appointed a diverse Cabinet and diverse White House staff
• Spoke at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization
• Signed the first major piece of federal gay rights legislation that includes acts of violence against gays under the list of federal hate crimes
• Reversed the Bush era practice of politicizing Justice Department investigations and prosecutions against political opponents
Allowing some of the 9/11 perpetrators to be tried in federal court
• Signed an extension of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Bill to provide federal research and support for treating the disease
Allowed the State Department of offer same-sex benefits for employees

Education Policy
Authorized construction funds for high-speed, broadband Internet access in K-12 public schools
Authorized new funds for school construction
Increased student loans
• Expanded the national youth service program
• Streamlined the federal student loan process to save $87 billion over the next 10 years
Changed the rule to allow students struggling to make college loan payments to refinance their loans
Beginning discussions with Congress for education reform
Initiated a “Race to the Top” competitive federal grant program for states who develop innovative policies
• Instituted a “judgment review” allowing families with student loans to petition to have their current financial status determine the loan rather than the previous year’s finances
• Launched “Educate to Innovate,” a public/private partnership making $236 million available for science, mathematics, and technology education programs

Other Domestic Policies & Initiatives
New federal funding for science and research labs
Signed national service legislation; expanded national youth service program
Increasing opportunities in AmeriCorps program
Ordered a review of hurricane and natural disaster preparedness
Instituted a new focus on mortgage fraud
Beginning discussions for comprehensive immigration reform
• Ordered that funds be released and red tape be streamlined for the ongoing Hurricane Katrina recovery effort in the Gulf Coast
Demonstrated an immediate and efficient response to the floods in North Dakota and other natural disasters
Ordered the DEA to stop raids on medical marijuana usage
• Ordered a review of existing “mandatory minimum” prison sentencing
Signed an order to limit airport tarmac delays and the time passengers had to sit in the plane/on the tarmac during delays
• Restored the EPA to “Cabinet level” status (this was the case under Clinton but not Bush)
• FEMA once again reports directly to the president (this was the case under Clinton but not Bush)

P.S.  A swing set was installed for the Obama girls outside the Oval Office and a garden was planted for the White House’s vegetables and flowers