Barack Obama

Government Openness Meeting: Closed to the Media and Public

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Openness in government is all well and good, and we are in fact firmly committed to it, but, well, get the hell out of our face, media, the government is having a secret meeting over here! From the Associated Press, which finds that, like many of Obama's promises, his promises of increased government transparency haven't panned out too well:

It's hardly the image of transparency the Obama administration wants to project: A workshop on government openness is closed to the public.

The event Monday for federal employees is a fitting symbol of President Barack Obama's uneven record so far on the Freedom of Information Act, a big part of keeping his campaign promise to make his administration the most transparent ever. As Obama's first year in office ends, the government's actions when the public and press seek information are not yet matching up with the president's words.

"The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails," Obama told government offices on his first full day as president…..

Yet on some important issues, his administration produced information only after government watchdogs and reporters spent weeks or months pressing, in some cases suing.

Those include what cars people were buying using the $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program (it turned out the most frequent trades involved pickups for pickups with only slightly better gas mileage); how many times airplanes have collided with birds (a lot); whether lobbyists and donors meet with the Obama White House (they do); rules about the interrogation of terror suspects (the FBI and CIA disagreed over what was permitted); and who was speaking in private with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (he has close relationships with a cadre of Wall Street executives whose multibillion-dollar companies survived the economic crisis with his help)….

The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, said it filed 45 requests for records since Obama became president, and that agencies such as NASA and the Energy Department have been mostly cooperative in the spirit of Obama's promises. But the FBI and Justice Department? Not so much….

The closed conference will provide tips for FOIA public liaisons on communicating and negotiating with people who make requests, and introduce the new Office of Government Information Services to them, said Melanie Ann Pustay, director of the Justice Department's Office of Information Policy….

Pustay said she planned to say the same things at the private workshop that she would say publicly. She offered these reasons to explain why it was closed: She wanted government employees to be able to speak candidly, and the conference would be in an auditorium at the Commerce Department, where she said a government ID was required to be admitted. The AP and other news organizations routinely enter government buildings to cover the government.

[Hat tip: Reader Paul from Seattle]

UPDATE: …and this had already been covered on Hit and Run yesterday.