Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Change.gov can't happen fast enough

This morning I attended one of the unsung institutions of democracy, the Miami Beach Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club. First-term Commissioner Ed Tobin awed the capacity crowd in David’s CafĂ© with story after story of waste and over-spending he’s found in the city’s operations.

A remedy he’s backing is to put the city’s checkbook online. “Yes!” chorused his listeners, distracted from their perico (eggs and chopped peppers).

Can this be done? What impact would the Florida Sunshine Law have on such openness? If enacted, it could mean a commissioner wouldn’t have to wait weeks or months to learn simple details about how money was spent on projects, and when it was spent.

I’m bringing this up to introduce the Obama transition website, change.gov, where some of this sort of activity already is promised. Including a blog where the president-elect’s appointees speak to the camera and explain themselves. And you can offer a comment.

Oh, there is going to be a mountain of potential in this new government, and I can only rue our antiquated Constitution that makes us wait almost three months after an election until we get what we voted for. We have a government that runs on an 18th-century schedule, and I think it’s foolish to continue like this. Maybe we can’t quite have a transition like the British style, where voters choose members of Parliament who have campaigned with a slate of prospective cabinet officers. When the votes are counted, the winners form a government and march into No. 10 Downing Street where the prime minister lives and works – right away. Shocking, isn’t it? Our counterpart activity would be to have the winner take a break and then start to announce who’s going to be in which office when the White House gets a new occupant in a couple months, on Jan. 20. And we’re lucky that it’s that early – it used to be only in March that the new administration took charge, and that’s why the Great Depression of the ‘30s was so hard to resolve, as FDR couldn’t start new initiatives for months.

A proposal for Obama’s second term, building on his background in constitutional law: Shrink the transition period as far as possible – one day is my goal. This requires amending the Constitution. Campaigning should by custom include a shadow government for the challenger, and laws if necessary should be changed to permit presumptive cabinet members to take office while accelerated confirmation processes are under way.

Meanwhile we have the speeded-up thing called change.gov and its blog and other outgrowths of the way the Obama campaign subdued all opponents with the help of great Internet sites. Coming next, we shall hope, is a Wiki for the White House, which you can read about in this yeasty piece by Dan Froomkin.

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