But two people familiar with White House thinking said the president may reverse that decision and issue the order if Congress does not pass broader legislation offering protection for gays in the workplace.
In trying to slow climate change, Obama is considering acting through the Environmental Protection Agency to issue new rules governing carbon emissions by existing power plants, according to three people familiar with White House discussions. The move would face fierce corporate opposition but is among the top goals of environmentalists.
The executive order calling for new cybersecurity standards would apply to industries such as transportation that are regulated by executive branch agencies. It also would increase the amount of computer threat data that the government shares with companies.
Throughout his first term, Obama turned frequently to the use of executive powers in the national-security arena, pursuing a campaign to overturn Libya’s government and making use of drones to kill suspected terrorists overseas. Lawmakers of both parties have sparred with the administration this week over secretive anti-terrorism programs employing drone strikes and targeted killings.
Obama’s moves on domestic policies began more recently after he concluded that Republicans in Congress were unlikely to pass many of the major items on his agenda.
Under the slogan “We Can’t Wait,” Obama took actions beginning in late 2011 to boost the housing market, lower payments on student loans and delay deportation of young illegal immigrants. He also installed key officials in regulatory agencies without congressional approval, producing loud complaints from Republicans.
In the months ahead, some people close to the White House said Obama must weigh the prospect of making progress on his priorities with the risk that acting aggressively could hurt the chances for more substantial legislation on Capitol Hill.
“That has to be part of an analysis of what are his powers under the Constitution and statutes of the United States,” said John D. Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, who used executive actions in the face of a hostile Congress in his second term. “I think given where he wants to go and where Congress has blocked and stalled and Republicans are recalcitrant to do anything . . . he’s going to move.”
In the realm of economic policy, Obama may expand a program — the Better Buildings Initiative — which seeks to hire workers to rehab federal and private-sector buildings to make them more efficient. Officials say the cost of the program is offset by energy savings.
On climate change, EPA is due this spring to issue final carbon-emission regulations for new power plants, using powers under the Clean Air Act. But Obama is also considering moving beyond that effort toward regulating carbon emissions from existing power plants.
A more ambitious plan to develop a market-based system known as “cap and trade” to control carbon emissions died in his first term, and appears unlikely to resurface soon.
On social policy, Obama is reconsidering whether to issue an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. When he decided not to issue such an order last year, the White House said it would prefer to pass a law applying to gays and lesbians in the workplace.
But if Congress seems unlikely to act on the broader legislation — called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — officials have signaled to people working on the issue outside the administration that the president would likely consider issuing an executive order, which can only affect government contractors.
Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.