Posts Tagged ‘government transparency’

Early troubles in Paradise?

January 23, 2009

On only his second day in office, U.S. President Obama got a little touchy with the press corps.

President Obama made a surprise visit to the White House press corps Thursday night, but got agitated when he was faced with a substantive question.

Asked how he could reconcile a strict ban on lobbyists in his administration with a Deputy Defense Secretary nominee who lobbied for Raytheon, Obama interrupted with a knowing smile on his face.

“Ahh, see,” he said, “I came down here to visit. See this is what happens. I can’t end up visiting with you guys and shaking hands if I’m going to get grilled every time I come down here.”

I thought that was a bit early in the game for some edginess.

Then a little more infighting with the new White House staff:

News organizations that cover the White House sparred with the Obama administration on Thursday over access issues for photographers and rules for briefings.

Representatives from Obama’s press office held a conference call with photo editors, who are concerned that the administration prefers distributing photos taken by a White House photographer in cases where photojournalists have been permitted access in the past. It was unclear whether the two sides had reached any accommodation.

The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse refused to distribute photos taken by the White House of the new president on his first day in the Oval Office because of the dispute. Still photographers were also not given access to Obama’s do-over oath of office administered Wednesday night by Chief Justice John Roberts and an economics meeting on Thursday.

Then a little problem with transparency.

The Associated Press also questioned on Thursday why reporters were not allowed to use the names of administration officials giving a background briefing on issues regarding the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.

Background briefings are hardly new in Washington, and were frequently conducted during the Bush and Clinton administrations. But the AP wanted to establish early with the administration that it’s important to get information on the record as often as possible, said Michael Oreskes, managing editor for U.S. news.

“Information is a lot more valuable to the public if you know where it’s coming from,” Oreskes said. “So we try very hard in all source situations to identify sources as fully as we can.”

In an attempt to deliver on pledges of a transparent government, Obama said he would change the way the federal government interprets the Freedom of Information Act. He said he was directing agencies that vet requests for information to err on the side of making information public — not to look for reasons to legally withhold it — an alteration to the traditional standard of evaluation.

Just because a government agency has the legal power to keep information private does not mean that it should, Obama said. Reporters and public-interest groups often make use of the law to explore how and why government decisions were made; they are often stymied as agencies claim legal exemptions to the law.

“For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city,” Obama said.

As I noted earlier, it is much easier for the President to talk  about transparency in government than to convince the bureaucracy to willingly buy into the policy.

Once again, thanks to Instapundit.


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