"Building a Secure Energy Future" a Memo From: Brookings Institute, To: President-Elect Barack Obama

Memo reviewed by Leah Foecke, HKS MPP

Factories and smoke

Apr 30, 2020
This memo is an example of a cross-organization memo – not written within an existing organizational hierarchy – that provides advice and advocacy from two Brookings Institution fellows to the newly-elected Barack Obama.  The timing of this memo is particularly significant for its meaning and content: written one week after the 2008 presidential election, it attempts to strategically shape policy for an incoming administration, accounting for Obama’s recent campaign promises as well as the ongoing global economic collapse.

Although the memo is written from an outside group, the voice is that of a trusted advisor with a shared foundation of values and inside knowledge. The tone is serious but calm and strategic, not urgent or dramatic. Despite the overall formal but straightforward style, there is language in the introduction that makes the writing feel more personal for the President, discussing courage, determination, and encouraging him for the “battle” to come.

The content of the memo includes an obvious problem definition up front (how to build a secure energy future amid an economic crisis), although this high-level definition is slightly vague, depending on the reader to infer the true scope of the issue. The vast majority of the memo is fleshing out detailed policy recommendations – not policy options – which are laid out as a detailed strategy, rather than alternatives requiring defense or explanation.

Overall, the language is clear and direct, and for the most part quite specific. However, the sheer number of ideas presented in each paragraph does mean they can read as “choppy” or less cohesive, with the potential for readers to get lost in details and miss the broader points. The memo is successful in laying out a comprehensive strategy for a widely-scoped problem, though it would be most effective as a reference document for an expert principal.