CREW On Obama Transparency Achievements: Strong on Rhetoric, Short on Change
Washington, D.C. - Today, one year after the White House issued two wide-reaching memoranda on government transparency, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to President Barack Obama lauding his administration’s efforts to overcome government secrecy, but noting that significant challenges remain.
CREW’s letter praises the president for encouraging an unprecedented level of transparency, citing the January 21, 2009 memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, another memorandum requiring Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests be processed with a presumption of disclosure, the administration’s decision to end CREW’s lengthy battle over access to White House visitor logs by agreeing to post the logs on the internet on a rolling basis, and the Office of Management and Budget’s Open Government Directive, requiring federal agencies to make high-value data open and available to the public.
Despite the president’s emphasis on government transparency, many of the White House’s initiatives lack specific metrics of success, and judging by CREW’s interactions with various federal agencies over the past year, the promise of transparency and openness has not translated into new government-wide operating policies.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), for example, maintained the Bush administration’s position that notes from the FBI’s interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak investigation were exempt from the FOIA. Only after CREW won a lawsuit against DOJ and a court ordered the release did DOJ produce the records. More recently, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control refused to expedite a response to CREW’s November 6, 2009 FOIA request for documents related to the distribution of the H1N1 vaccine to Wall Street firms despite a nationwide shortage.
Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director, said today, “CREW is pleased with the Obama administration’s initiatives and we will continue to work with the White House to improve transparency.” Sloan continued, “While the president’s commitment to an open government is undoubtedly sincere, creating a culture of transparency takes more than White House memos. Administration officials who fail to follow the president’s lead must be held accountable. It should not require a Washington organization using aggressive legal and media strategies to force the government to release information. Everyone – bloggers, students, and curious citizens – should have the ability to learn what the government is up to.”
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is a non-profit legal watchdog group dedicated to holding public officials accountable for their actions. For more information, please visit www.citizensforethics.org or contact Jordan Libowitz at 202.408.5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.