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Obama Transition Team Wrestles With Security Clearances

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By Al Kamen
Monday, November 24, 2008

The first wave of Obama transition staffers rolled into the government bureaucracy last week to investigate the states of play at various agencies. Best we can tell, things went reasonably smoothly, with perhaps a few exceptions, mostly having to do with security-clearance glitches.

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One Democratic official said there were some instances in which a "breakdown of communications" between the transition and the White House and an agency or two may have affected things. But a transition source involved in a "breakdown" called it a "massive screw-up."

We're told clearances were slow in coming -- or those that came were not at a high enough level -- for a majority of transition-team members when they arrived at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

The intelligence side seems less affected, probably because most transition staffers in that arena already have heavy-duty clearances. Team chief John Brennan and his aides have been seen lunching in the DNI cafeteria and ambling the halls without apparent problem. They have been issued offices and computers -- ones that can handle classified material.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday that the two dozen transition-team members at the Pentagon either have the required clearances or "will get them shortly."

So things apparently will get sorted out.

Seeking a Pleasant Peninsula

With the auto industry in general and the state of Michigan in particular melting down last week, executives from Detroit's Big Three automakers were wandering the Hill with tin cups. But with hundreds of thousands of Michigan jobs at stake, some folks were wondering where the state's governor, Jennifer Granholm, was.

Turns out she was in the Middle East, on a week-long trade trip to Israel and Jordan that started Nov. 13. Even had time to spare for a grip-and-grin with outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and to lay a wreath at the Holocaust memorial before heading to Jordan.

But the Detroit bailout package was quickly heading south as the hapless auto executives -- did anyone brief them on what to say and do? -- were mercilessly hammered Tuesday and Wednesday by lawmakers in the House and Senate. And the governor? Chatting with Jordan's King Abdullah.

She cut her trip short by a day and made it back to Washington on Thursday morning for a bit of lobbying before heading home to Lansing that night.

Well, it's hard to fault her for going to the Middle East. That's about the only place where they still buy SUVs.

Chinese Junket

Speaking of travel, looks as though there'll be one last great trip for the lame-duck Bush Cabinet before it fades into the sunset. It's the great 2008 U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue, to work on strategies to improve economic relationships. The trip, part of a regular exchange between the two countries, is set for the end of next week. All policy agreements are guaranteed until Jan. 20.


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