Perhaps no other president has taken the oath of office with as many daunting challenges awaiting him as Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States. The worsening economy, rising unemployment, 45 million Americans without health insurance, rapid global warming, the Middle East war and turmoil in Afghanistan, an education system requiring transformation, inadequate attention to the needs and potential of our nation's infants and children, and the long-term care needs of an aging population are just a few of the issues awaiting the Obama administration.

As a member of the transition team responsible for assessing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and offering Secretary-designate Tom Daschle policy, personnel and management commendations, I was moved by the team's earnestness of purpose, the comprehensive scope of our work and the depth of our discussions. The reports that we generated for those appointed to leadership positions in HHS were products that any incoming appointee would find invaluable.

To address an almost overwhelming agenda, the president and his team need to quickly shore up an executive branch weakened by two terms of reliance upon the politics of conviction and ideology rather than policy formulation informed by rigorously derived, reliable evidence. Strong first steps have been taken with the nomination of many outstanding individuals to lead the executive branch departments.

But as President Obama has emphasized, all citizens must be involved in and responsible for shaping and strengthening our future. Thus, he and his team have begun to reach out to the American people to engage them as partners in the work that must occur in every community and at all levels of government to put the nation on a promising path to a better future.

At a minimum, I have high hopes Secretary-designate Daschle and his health care reform policy guru, Dr. Jeanne Lambrew, will craft a health care reform proposal Congress will enact. Both are pragmatic idealists who understand the complexities of the existing health care system, its gaps and its shortcomings. Both know well the hazards and possibilities that are implicit in federal policymaking and the competing interests at play. They also understand how policies run at state and local levels, both for people with health concerns and for administering agencies.

An ambitious HHS policy agenda with a strengthened National Institutes of Health will have important ramifications for the School of Social Work. Many of our faculty are research leaders in child development, at-risk youth, family functioning, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, aging, alcohol and substance abuse, juvenile justice, health disparities and more. We are excited that science will once again be valued for its transformative potential. We are pleased to be providing the Office of Management and Budget with our expertise. We are proud Vice President Joseph Biden has named our alumnus Jared Bernstein as his chief economic adviser.

Because we prepare professionals to engage in social policy formulation, the design of systems of care, social enterprise administration, the provision of clinical services, social intervention and policy research and social development, we are certain our alumni will appear in leadership roles in agencies such as the Veterans Administration, the Department of Labor, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice and the Department of State.

I know Columbia University's faculty welcome an ambitious Obama agenda. Their wisdom borne out of research will prove invaluable to our 44th president. I have no doubt that many will be called upon to provide their best thinking and their recommendations as he begins his work.

 

Takamura is dean of the School of Social Work, where she is also a professor.

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