Page last updated at 10:52 GMT, Thursday, 6 November 2008

Inside the presidential in-tray

By Steve Schifferes
BBC News, Washington

Although the election is over, the new president will not take office until 20 January 2009.

Meanwhile, many crucial issues will be piling up in his in-tray.

And expectations are high, both at home and abroad, that the Obama presidency may represent a new beginning.

But, as the president-elect said in his acceptance speech, the road ahead will be long and hard.


The first task of the new president is to appoint the key members of his team. More than 4,000 jobs will need to be filled in the US civil service, of which more than 1,000 will require Senate approval.

9 Dec: Deadline for states to resolve issues such as recounts or challenges
15 Dec: Electoral college electors meet in each state to formally cast their votes
6 Jan: Joint session of Congress to count electoral college votes
Before 20 Jan: Barack Obama and Joe Biden must resign from the Senate
20 Jan: Inauguration day

Mr Obama is expected to move quickly to name key members of his administration, with some announcements as early as the Thanksgiving holiday in late November.

His transition team is being lead by John Podesta, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Among the most important appointments will be the new secretaries of state, defence and the treasury.

Mr Obama has hinted that he may keep the Bush administration's defence secretary, Robert Gates.


The top priority for the new president will be trying to pull the US economy out of a potential recession following the unprecedented financial meltdown.

Mr Obama and the Democrats believe that the situation is so urgent that they want to recall Congress for a "lame duck" session even before the new administration takes office to pass an economic stimulus bill.

Meanwhile, it is not clear what role the president-elect will play in a global economic summit in Washington in mid-November, called by President Bush but backed by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to try to find a global response to the crisis.

The deteriorating economic situation and the growing federal budget deficit could force Mr Obama to make some tough choices when he presents his first budget request to Congress in February, shortly after his inauguration.


Barack Obama's central pledge on foreign policy was to get US combat troops out of Iraq over the next 18 months.

With a draft agreement with the Iraqi government over a more limited withdrawal already on the table, he faces difficult decisions if the security situation begins to deteriorate.

He might also have a tricky relationship with General David Petraeus, the new commander of US forces throughout the Middle East, who was the key architect of the "surge" policy which boosted troop numbers in Iraq.


One of the central pledges of Mr Obama's campaign was to expand healthcare coverage for the uninsured.

He argued that this was essential for US competitiveness, despite the economic downturn.

Due to the complexity of any healthcare reform, and the potential clash with key stakeholders such as doctors and hospitals, any work must begin early to lay the groundwork for reform.

But the cost of any major changes, given the financial situation, may mean that Mr Obama will proceed cautiously and incrementally.


Mr Obama has called for a crash programme of research and development into new technologies to help make the US independent of imported oil within a decade.

Even more urgently, the world is waiting to see whether the US will agree to sign up to a new treaty on climate change when the Kyoto agreement expires.

With a deadline for the deal less than a year away, the US will have to make its position clear if negotiations are to have a chance of reaching a successful conclusion.


Mr Obama has indicated that he believes the main effort in the so-called war on terror should be made in Afghanistan.

With a rapidly deteriorating security situation in Kabul as well as the provinces, and the Taleban apparently taking the offensive, urgent action seems to be needed.

Mr Obama has said he believes that political and economic progress as well as military reinforcements are needed.

Afghanistan is likely to be an early subject of conversation between the new president and his military advisers.


The president-elect has made great play of his desire to restore America's prestige in the world and to work more closely with US allies abroad - and was acclaimed when he travelled to Europe earlier this year.

So he might want an early trip abroad to cement relationships with Nato allies, especially ahead of any escalation of efforts in Afghanistan.

Mr Obama will also want to redefine his nation's relationship with old and new rivals such as China and Russia, whose behaviour has worried allies.


One of the most difficult tasks for the new Obama administration will be managing the high expectations he has created - and the hunger for change.

On domestic policy, the US is already plunging towards a potential recession, and it would be some time before any of his policies would take effect.

And the slowdown could also limit his room for manoeuvre on other domestic initiatives.

On the international front, US foreign policy will still be constrained by limited resources and existing relationships, and outside of Iraq, any changes are likely to be incremental.

President-elect Obama recognised the possibility of frustration when he said in his victory speech: "We may not get there in one year, or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there."

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