White House not posting bills but taking small steps on transparency

Since campaigning on a promise to make government more transparent, President Obama has posted a record on openness that is decidedly mixed.

The president promised to post bills passed by Congress for at least five days online before signing them, to allow for public review and comment. So far, he has mostly failed to do so.

Watchdog groups, though, cheered recently when Obama reversed himself on releasing White House visitor logs. Previously, the administration had resisted sharing details of who was visiting the West Wing on key policy matters.

But the Obama administration also recently moved to restrict media access to the prison at Guantanamo Bay and is pushing for a shield law that could force reporters to divulge confidential sources.

“What we've seen is that a number of their promises and different aspects of their commitment to transparency were easy to talk about in the campaign but not so easy to do,” said John Wonderlich, policy director at the Sunshine Foundation.

Still, Wonderlich, whose organization is working with the White House to put more government data online, gives Obama overall high marks for transparency.

A recent report by another watchdog group cited several instances in which the administration has come up short on Obama's stated goals on transparency.

“The Obama administration so far has a very mixed record,” said Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org.

The organization says that Obama campaigned against reflexive use of the state secrets act, which allows the government to hide information such as the warrantless wiretapping program and other policies to protect national security.

Obama since coming to office has embraced the privilege on several occasions.

Last month, the administration issued tougher new guidelines on state secrets policy, requiring federal agencies and the military to convince the Justice Department that the release of secret information would harm national security. Previously, there was a lower burden of proof requiring the approval of just one other official.

Although the change is a step forward toward transparency from the state secrets policy of the Bush administration, critics said that Obama's policy falls short of having the matter decided by an independent arbiter such as a judge.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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