White House and Transition Officials Conduct Joint Disaster Exercise
By Spencer S. Hsu
Senior aides to President Bush and President-elect Barack Obama met at the White House this morning to conduct an unprecedented joint disaster exercise for transition leaders.
The three-hour exercise brought together Cabinet members, nominees and senior outgoing and incoming White House officials to discuss how to respond to a hypothetical terrorist attack on transportation and other targets in multiple U.S. cities. The table-top drill followed 90 minutes of orientations and briefings in the West Wing situation room about federal laws and procedures to manage emergency incidents and to preserve the government's chain of command.
"In the post-9/11 world, this isn't just good-mannered good government; it's a national security responsibility," Bush Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten told reporters.
"Whether we're Democrats or Republicans, we will have our policy differences. There is no policy difference when it comes to protecting the American people," incoming Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel added.
The timing and duration of Tuesday's preparations just one week before Inauguration Day underscored the importance both sides have placed on a smooth handoff of power in the first presidential transition since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Democrats are taking over for the first time the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Director of National Intelligence, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Pentagon's U.S. Northern Command, for example, each of which was created in the government reorganizations of recent years.
Independent analysts have urged closer and earlier cooperation, noting the frequency with which terrorist attacks have occurred within weeks or months of government transitions in the United States, Britain and Spain, and the fact that in September 2001 many Bush appointees were still awaiting confirmation.
Bolten said the administration has certified nearly 1,000 members of Obama's transition team for access to information at nearly 100 government agencies and expedited clearances for his national security aides so they could "hit the ground running."
The exercise contemplated multiple scenarios to show "who does what under what authorities, and with what coordination in the event of a homeland security incident," Bolten said.
Officials have said there is no specific, credible threat of an attack.
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