Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Footnote to the preceding, Another Front Div.

While "national security" and the War on Terror(c)(reg.)(pat.pend.) are likely the areas where he is getting the biggest push from those around him, they are not the only areas where President Obama appears to have found the levers of power more alluring than candidate Obama did.

Barack Obama came into office promising to run "the most transparent and accountable government in history." In fact, the day after his inauguration,
Mr. Obama said he would require his administration to consider the Freedom of Information Act and the general concept of openness and transparency in a different way than in previous administrations.
But like more than a few other fine phrases, the implementation did not live up to the implication. ABC News reported recently that
[a] sweeping new Obama administration openness policy doesn't apply to a key White House office that supports most of Obama's key staff and advisers, administration officials confirm. Rather, the Obama White House has opted to retain a Bush-era policy that blocks information about those operations from public release.
The office in question is the White House Office of Administration, which oversees much of the day-to-day operations of the president's office and staff.

George Bush was the man who declared, in 2007, that the office was not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. A federal court subsequently agreed with the White House that the office was technically not an "agency" within the meaning of the FOIA and so was not covered by it.
Today, the Obama White House Web site announces that the Office of Administration "is not subject to FOIA and related authorities." And that's just not good enough, say government watchdogs.
Not good enough because the court decision does not require the government to dismiss FOIA requests about the Office of Administration, it says only that it doesn't have to respond to them. It's still free to do so if it chooses.
"If the president is talking about establishing an 'unprecedented' level of transparency, it seems like at a minimum he should be reverting to the pre-Bush practice of honoring the FOIA within a key White House component," said David Sobel, a lawyer who runs a government accountability project at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "That's not even unprecedented, that's just getting back to what had been the norm."

Steven Aftergood, who runs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, agreed, noting that he'd also like to see Obama reverse a Clinton administration decision to exempt the White House National Security Council from FOIA, a stance Bush maintained and Obama has shown no inclination to reverse.
This, admittedly, is something that might change in time, something that has been rather low on their list of priorities. But frankly, reverting to a previous status quo - especialy when that could be done with a simple executive order directing the Office of Administration to act as if it was covered the the FOIA - is not something that should take a lot of study or deep consideration. The bottom line here is that Obama campaigned on creating "the most transparent and accountable administration in history" and yet, so far, is in at least some ways running one that is less open than the first six years of the Bush administration.

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