The Transparency Dog that Didn’t Bark

by on January 22, 2009 · 11 comments

My post yesterday wondering aloud whether the Obama administration was walking away from its transparency commitments was slightly premature. Memoranda were being issued/reported on as I wrote, and this morning’s Washington Post describes some of the technical glitches that befuddled White House staff on day one. The texts of the executive orders President Obama signed yesterday are now online, but his memoranda on transparency aren’t yet. Helpfully, they’ve been posted by the Sunlight Foundation.

But I think my post was sound in the main, because I was looking for actual pro-transparency deeds from the new administration, and they haven’t materialized. I appreciate the sentiments voiced in these documents, but don’t find myself wholly impressed with the actual transparency measures the White House has taken.

What I’m hearing is the transparency dog that didn’t bark: The Obama team set a great precedent in the transition with the Seat at the Table program, but there’s no sign that such a thing will be implemented in the White House. Why not?

We can expect an “Open Government Directive” within 120 days and new guidelines for the Freedom of Information Act, but I would have appreciated seeing President Obama’s commitment to openness illustrated the best way possible: through the direct and immediate commitment of his own White House operation.

The White House will not be run as openly as the transition was. The agencies, already predisposed against transparency, will see this as a sign of weak commitment and will whittle away even more fiercely at the good sentiments President Obama’s expressed in his transparency memoranda.

(“Thanks for inviting me!” said the skunk at the garden party.)

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