President Obama once again claimed his administration is the “most transparent in history” Thursday, despite lengthy record of failed reform and increased secrecy.
Obama was answering questions during a Google hangout when a woman questioned him on his promises of greater government transparency, noting things “feels a lot less transparent.”
“This is the most transparent administration in history,” Obama assured the woman. “I can document that this is the case.”
“Every visitor that comes into the White House is now part of the record,” Obama continued. “Just about every law that we pass and rule that we implement we put online for everyone to see.”
First of all, he will drone you quick as look at you if you say that again, okay?
Second, the questioner’s feeling is a lot more accurate than the president’s spin. Read all of C.J.’s story for the plethora of investigations that have found otherwise. Yes, White House visitor lists are an improvement in transparency, to which Obama clings whenever asked about this subject. But it’s a rather small one, and his advisers do quite a lot of work while purposely evading it. And, as for putting laws online, I’m not sure exactly what he’s talking about. If he means posting them after they’re passed, that’s just a reasonable expectation of modernity, and he hasn’t even cleared that low bar with the Unified Agenda of regulations, whose lawfully required release the administration has repeatedly missed and delayed. If he means putting bills online before they’re voted on, that’s a push the Tea Party and those in transparency advocacy have made, but which the president found notably annoying during the health care fight. If he means giving an online waiting time before he signs a non-emergency bill, that promise is just flat-out broken.
So, questioner, your feeling is valid.
“In the beginning of 2010, [Obama] said he made a significant mistake by abandoning some of his pledges related to transparency,” said Josh Gerstein of Politico, “and that going forward they would do things differently. Seems to me we are forward and it seems to me we’re not doing things any differently.”
It was a more-in-sadness-than-in-anger critique of Obama often heard from the political left, and the moderator, the Sunlight Foundation’s Daniel Schuman, was apologetic. “We’re placing a lot of blame at the administration,” he observed. “Or blame isn’t the right word — maybe responsibility.”
No, blame is just fine. The Obama administration’s high level of opacity, though typical of modern presidencies, is troubling precisely because the president was so clear about his determination to do things differently. As recently as early last year, some open-government advocates were still hopeful, presenting Obama with an anti-secrecy award at the White House. But even then, there were signs of trouble: The award presentation wasn’t on his schedule and was closed to reporters.
By certain measures, “overall secrecy has actually increased rather than declined,” said Steven Aftergood, who runs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy. “Criminalization of unauthorized disclosures of information to the press has risen sharply, becoming a preferred tactic. Efforts to promote public accountability in controversial aspects of counterterrorism policy such as targeted killing have been blocked by threadbare, hardly credible national security secrecy claims.”
A Washington Post report from this past summer concluded that “by some measures the government is keeping more secrets than before.” Those making Freedom of Information Act requests in 2011 were less likely than in 2010 to get material from 10 of 15 Cabinet agencies, which were more likely to exploit the law’s exemptions.
A couple more examples, without even getting into the expansive examples of stonewalling from the DOJ on Fast and Furious, or the administration on Benghazi.