Unlike his successor, President Obama has accomplished his most notable work beyond the press’s reach. His final weeks have been no different. While it seems that the Obama-Trump transition has been quite tranquil, I will examine four “last-minute” actions that have been put into effect to limit the incoming Administration.
#1 Permanent Ban on Offshore Drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic Seaboard
In late December, President Obama took action using the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act—a 63-year-old legislation— in a never before seen move. While this policy allows presidents to withdraw certain lands from future leasing, former presidents have never used it to ban lands indefinitely. This action aims to protect the US from irreparable harm foreseen by offshore drilling in the Arctic regions. In a recent study by the Nuka Research and Planning Group, LLC., it has been confirmed that current technologies used to clean up an oil spill would only be 18-56% effective during a short summer period in the Arctic and useless during the rest of the year. To illustrate , Shell has aimed to explore drilling in the Arctic region, and the US government’s Environmental Impact Statement estimates a 75% chance of a large oil spill occurring during their project. Large oil spills are not only extremely damaging to our environment, health, ecosystems and marine life, but they carry a massive threat to Native people’s livelihoods and indirect damages to our economy. As a President with a sweeping environmental record often praised by large organizations like the Sierra Club and Environment America, this is an action to cement his legacy and limit the future administration, as there is no legal precedent regarding the reversal of its enactment.
#2 New CIA Rules
During his final week in office, President Obama and his Administration formulated a new set of rules for the CIA. These rules had not been updated since 1982. Because the former rules were classified it is difficult to compare how significant the changes truly are. However, the new regulations do include pioneering guidelines that aim to protect privacy. Perhaps, the most fundamental difference is the creation of explicit rules for caretaking digital files that hold personal information. This guideline includes a requirement that they are purged every 5-25 years, depending on the sensitivity of the data. Moreover, the guidelines require strict standards when searching through data files for a specific American and establish procedure to ensure the legitimacy and enforcement of these new regulations. These changes will not go into effect until Mid-March and can definitely be changed by the Trump Administration, but it is likely they won’t be too different. After all, this is a huge bipartisan victory as it offers some groundbreaking privacy protections.
#3 Termination of National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS)
Refusing to aid in Trump’s promises to build a registry for Islamic citizens in this country, President Obama dissolved the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System. The system was established after 9/11 and required non citizens to register when they entered the US—which included fingerprinting, photo taking and interrogation—mandated that those registered regularly check in with immigration officials, and arrested, fined and deported those who did not leave the country on time or follow those mandates closely. The program was supposed to keep an eye out for all men older than 16 from a list of 25 countries, but it was mainly used to track only Arab and Muslim men. Still, it is important to note there is no evidence that it was ever effective in reducing terrorist activity and instead, caused widespread fear and distrust in those Muslim communities within the US. By 2011, NSEERS had never been successful in convicting any terrorist actions, despite its ten-year run, so the Obama Administration suspended the program by removing the list of countries. To ensure the incoming Trump Administration would not have a ready made system to carry out plans to further scrutinize citizens and harass the Muslim community, President Obama scrapped the entire system last month, destroying the blueprint for the registry Trump longs to build, and halting/delaying Trump’s ability to come through on his promises.
#4 Obamacare Enrollment Push
As his term came to a close, the Obama Administration led a widespread effort to get as many people signed up for the Affordable Care Act as possible. These efforts were based upon the assumption that if more people relied upon the legislation, it would be more difficult for Republicans to repeal. Examining the data, where 45% of people who had paid a fine for being uninsured were under the age of 35, the Administration devised a target-specific plan to sign up young adults. These tactics included direct mailers and e-mailers, commercial testimonials as well as promotions offering to pay first month’s premium. Additionally, the Administration partnered with Lyft and Uber to offer discounts to people who were riding to sign up for health insurance before the Open Enrollment deadline. Their efforts were successful. The Administration faced a nationwide record as 11.5 million people are now registered for health insurance this upcoming year. Not only can this delay the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act, but this victory can also help control health insurance premiums and prices.
Regardless of whether Obama’s hasty actions during his last few months are objectively the best for our country, they are a testament to his wit, effectiveness, and leadership. While preaching a vision of unity and togetherness and posing for photo-ops with the Trump family, Obama worked tirelessly to single-handedly obstruct Trump’s objectives. As Trump captured the media and the GOP’s attention, President Obama worked efficiently and quietly to cement the values he thought were important to our country. As we go into Inauguration Day, let us reflect on the America Obama envisioned—where our environment is preserved, all of our civilians (including Natives and Muslims) and their livelihoods are protected, and health care is made accessible to everyone.
“Nothing worthwhile in this country has ever happened unless somebody somewhere is willing to hope. Somebody who is willing to stand up when they are told, “No, you can’t”, and instead they say, “Yes, we can”.– President Barack Obama, Victory Speech 2008