WASHINGTON — Senior officials in the Bush administration and members of President-elect Barack Obama's staff teamed up at the White House Tuesday for a rehearsal of how to handle a hypothetical terrorist attack on an American city.
During the drill, they responded to a scenario in which transportation facilities and other targets were hit with improvised explosive devices. The exercise was part of an effort to smooth the transition from the Bush to Obama administrations without jeopardizing the nation's preparedness in case of a terrorist attack, pandemic or natural disaster. The White House said it was a realistic and conceivable scenario, but was not based on any current, credible threat.
"Whether we're Democrats or Republicans, we will have our policy differences," Rahm Emanuel, Obama's incoming chief of staff, told reporters outside the White House before the event. "There is no policy difference when it comes to protecting the American people."
Current White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten said the Bush administration began consulting with both the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns last summer on a number of transition issues, and started close consultation with the Obama team after the election.
"We've certified nearly 1,000 members of the Obama transition team for access to information and briefings at nearly 100 agencies around the government, and we've expedited clearances for key members of the national security team so that they're in a position to hit the ground running," Bolten said. "In the post-9/11 world, this isn't just good mannered, good government, it's a national security responsibility."
Similar exercises are held throughout the year to allow government officials to practice how they would respond to emergencies, said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel. In the current exercise, dozens of officials, including some members of the Bush Cabinet, were briefed in the Situation Room, then later moved to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for the exercise.
"While the federal government has regular exercises of this nature, today's session was the first ever exercise which included both current and outgoing senior White House officials and Cabinet members," Stanzel said.