Transparency a hollow catch-word for Obama

Barack Obama, both candidate and President, promised the American people the most transparent administration in our history. But the reality is far less than that. The Obama Justice Department is challenging a district court ruling that the Secret Service logs kept of visitors to the White House should be open records. According to Politico, the District Court Judge, Beryl Howell, (an Obama appointee) would make exceptions only for matters of security and (presumably legitimate) privacy considerations.

But the Obama administration took exception to her correct decision and is now appealing the lower court decision much the same way former Vice President Dick Cheney fought to keep secret the records of visits to his office from high-powered executives of oil and gas companies.

This should not surprise anyone who has tried to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) under the Obama administration to access Justice Department, State Department or other agency records. The Supreme Court has said that FOIA is a means for “citizens to know what their government is up to.” Such requests are routinely met with bureaucratic foot-dragging, obfuscation, and procedural encumbrances. One loyal Democratic member of the Massachusetts House delegation has ruefully concluded that the Obama Administration, while giving lip service to transparency, is no better on this issue than that of George W. Bush.

The plaintiff in this case is Judicial Watch, seeking records of those who have had access to the White House during 2009. Admittedly, Judicial Watch is an ultra conservative organization with a predilection for seeking accountability from Democratic administrations. But the principle of accountability applies to the Obama Administration no less than any other, especially given the President’s lofty pronouncements of transparency.

The President directed that FOIA “should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.” Obama has also directed that agencies shouldn’t withhold information just because “public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.”
But, while the Obama Administration may have declared a “new era of open government,” saying it doesn’t make it so.

The Secret Service, which keeps the records, maintains they are White House records and therefore not subject to FOIA, as regular agency records would be. This is just déjà vu all over again, yet another disappointing reminder that, instead of sailing with “The Audacity of Hope,” as we did in 2008, we are now experiencing the triumph of experience over hope.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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