Walking Away from Transparency, Step Two

by on January 29, 2009 · 30 comments

On the first full day of the new Obama administration, I wrote here, and later followed up, expressing regret that the Obama White House hadn’t ported the “Seat at the Table” program over from the transition. Change.gov published documents submitted to the transition on its Web site for public review and comment. Whitehouse.gov does not.

Now we learn that the White House will not honor an Obama campaign and Whitehouse.gov pledge – not more than nine days old – to post all non-emergency legislation on the White House Web site for five days before the President signs it.

One significant addition to WhiteHouse.gov reflects a campaign promise from the President: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.

President Obama signed the “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009” into law today, one day after Congress delivered it to him. And there’s the bill law, posted on Whitehouse.gov for public review. But it sure hasn’t been up for five days. And it’s not emergency legislation: Bills like it have been floating around in Congress since at least June 2007.

If I was a little demanding about transparency from day one, it was a bit of counterpoint to folks who were going dewy about Obama’s transparency promises. Those were simply words. Judging by the Whitehouse.gov screen cap below, transparency got thrown over the side for a photo op. Welcome to Washington.

obama-photo-op

Update: Just got an email that helps illustrate why the sound practices of letting legislation cool and taking public comment would go by the wayside. Getting credit from the ACLU is much more important than pleasing the relatively tiny coterie of transparency fans – and there is almost no expectation among the public that a White House should practice good lawmaking hygiene.

aclu-screencap

  • http://blurringborders.com Kevin D

    “Getting credit from the ACLU is much more important than pleasing the relatively tiny coterie of transparency fans – and there is almost no expectation among the public that a White House should practice good lawmaking hygiene.”

    Wait a minute… isn't the ACLU a part of the tiny coterie of transparency fans?

    But, yeah, Obama better get on board and wait 5 days.

  • dm

    You have a point, but considering that getting this law enacted was a prominent issue in the election, the public comment period basically ended last November. It's not like public comment was going to change the outcome.

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  • JF

    Aside from a small number of geeks and political junkies (like us) there a few more that truly care about this issue. Should the president be true to his word and post the legislation before signing? Yes, but will it truly make a difference? I don't think so.

    I know this could mean the start of slippery slope and worse comes to worst and we are back at the Bush years. But for once I am glad that the whitehouse.gov has been providing relevant content that matters and affects the life off the people, instead of the adventures of the First Dog.

    In all honesty this failure from the new administration is minimal compared to the many, many, many, many (you get the point) mistakes of the previous secretive administration. Which brings me to following point: Where were the current complaining voices during the previous administration? A larger number of people are choosing to be vocal about the shortcomings of this new administration, while at the same time 8 and again 4 years they opted for silence. The people's responsibility is to keep government on check (whether our guy won or not) but for so long we have allowed the politics of fear to drive our decisions. It is time for the people start being intentional, effective, and unapologetic in reclaiming this country of ours from the bottom up. Our city, county, and state leadership must understand they serve the people. Most of us are eager to criticize and bully the federal government, but won't give a second thought to what happens on our backyards. Just some food for thought.

  • dm

    Not fair, JF. People kvetched about transparency then, too — it's just that now the kvetching might actually have some positive effect.

  • quanticle

    Where were the current complaining voices during the previous administration? A larger number of people are choosing to be vocal about the shortcomings of this new administration, while at the same time 8 and again 4 years they opted for silence.

    However, the previous administration didn't promise transparency. In fact, in several comments attributed to Dick Cheney, they promised the exact opposite – more secrecy, more covert action, all in the name of keeping us secure and free from future terrorist attack. Now, one can argue whether more secrecy and more covert actions do in fact keep us free from terrorist attacks, or whether the loss of transparency is worth the gain in safety, but one can't really accuse the Bush administration of hypocrisy over their opaqueness. Like it or not, the previous administration never promised to be transparent, and time and again asserted the need for increased secrecy in the name of security.

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  • Phil M

    Note that the following was posted to the White House blog today:

    “As we've noted on the blog, the President has signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act. We've also published the DTV Delay Act of 2009.

    “Since a few questions have come in, we want to update you on the President's campaign commitment to introducing more sunlight into the lawmaking process by posting non-emergency legislation online for five days before signing it. This policy will be implemented in full soon; currently we are working through implementation procedures and some initial issues with the congressional calendar.

    “The President remains committed to bringing more transparency to government, and in this spirit the White House will continue to publish legislation expected to come to his desk online for public comment as it moves through Congress.”

  • Phil M

    Note that the following was posted to the White House blog today:

    “As we've noted on the blog, the President has signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act. We've also published the DTV Delay Act of 2009.

    “Since a few questions have come in, we want to update you on the President's campaign commitment to introducing more sunlight into the lawmaking process by posting non-emergency legislation online for five days before signing it. This policy will be implemented in full soon; currently we are working through implementation procedures and some initial issues with the congressional calendar.

    “The President remains committed to bringing more transparency to government, and in this spirit the White House will continue to publish legislation expected to come to his desk online for public comment as it moves through Congress.”

  • Phil M

    Note that the following was posted to the White House blog today:

    “As we've noted on the blog, the President has signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act. We've also published the DTV Delay Act of 2009.

    “Since a few questions have come in, we want to update you on the President's campaign commitment to introducing more sunlight into the lawmaking process by posting non-emergency legislation online for five days before signing it. This policy will be implemented in full soon; currently we are working through implementation procedures and some initial issues with the congressional calendar.

    “The President remains committed to bringing more transparency to government, and in this spirit the White House will continue to publish legislation expected to come to his desk online for public comment as it moves through Congress.”

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