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New Obama Orders on Transparency, FOIA Requests

By Ed O'Keefe

In a move that pleased good government groups and some journalists, President Obama issued new orders today designed to improve the federal government's openness and transparency. The first memo instructs all agencies and departments to "adopt a presumption in favor" of Freedom of Information Act requests, while the second memo orders the director of the Office of Management and Budget to issue recommendations on making the federal government more transparent.

"The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears," Obama said in the FOIA memo, adding later that "In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public."

His memo on government transparency states that the Obama Administration "will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government." The order directs the yet-to-be-named chief technology officer to work with the OMB director to develop an "Open Government Directive" in the next four months.

Just in case new OMB director Peter R. Orszag needs any suggestions, the Sunlight Foundation -- a group dedicated to improving government transparency -- has several.

"I’m pretty damn pleased that the issue of transparency in government is such a high priority for the new administration," said director Ellen Miller. Each agency should do an audit of its information and data how it makes it available, Miller said. The administration should also redefine the definition of "public information" to mean that government information is not public until it is posted online in an easy-to-download format.

"The devil is in the details," Miller cautions, noting that the new memos and executive orders had not been posted on the new White House Web site by late afternoon Wednesday.

Obama today also froze the salaries of senior White House staffers and issued executive orders on presidential records and new ethics guidelines for presidential appointees.

What would YOU do? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 21, 2009

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

SUBJECT: Freedom of Information Act

A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, "sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.

All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.

I direct the Attorney General to issue new guidelines governing the FOIA to the heads of executive departments and agencies, reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency, and to publish such guidelines in the Federal Register. In doing so, the Attorney General should review FOIA reports produced by the agencies under Executive Order 13392 of December 14, 2005. I also direct the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to update guidance to the agencies to increase and improve information dissemination to the public, including through the use of new technologies, and to publish such guidance in the Federal Register.

This memorandum does not create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

The Director of the Office of Management and Budget is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA



THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 21, 2009

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

SUBJECT: Transparency and Open Government

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.

Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government.

Government should be collaborative. Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of

Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector. Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.

I direct the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Administrator of General Services, to coordinate the development by appropriate executive departments and agencies, within 120 days, of recommendations for an Open Government Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB, that instructs executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth in this memorandum. The independent agencies should comply with the Open Government Directive.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

This memorandum shall be published in the Federal Register.

BARACK OBAMA

By Ed O'Keefe  | January 21, 2009; 5:34 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Agencies and Departments, What Would You Do?  
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Comments

DO NOT LISTEN TO WHAT BARACK OBAMA SAYS, BUT CAREFULLY WATCH WHAT HE DOES !!!

Barack Obama is the greatest liar in history (no wonder he is an excellent lawyer!) During his campaign, he told lots of hope in future for America if he was elected, but now he warns Americans of oncoming darker economy and not to put too much hope in his promises. He promises a big plan to reduce budget deficit but his inauguration ceremony this January will be the most costly in history (50 millions) while the nation is in deep depression, as well as his presidential campaign (600 millions), which was far more than his opponent John McCain's. He vows to clean up Washington DC, but he failed to first clean up his homestate Illinois, one of the most corrupt state with the scandal of Governor Rod Blagojevich, who greatly helped Obama to win his state senate seat in 1996, 1998, and 2002. And his favorite slogan is "Yes, we CAN", yet he himself CANNOT quit smoking at all !!! (Each year about 1.3 million American smokers quit successfully).

Posted by: TIMNGUYEN1 | January 21, 2009 5:54 PM | Report abuse

For petes sake enough with Obama smoking! Its not illegal you know??? Give it a rest! It is better then a president that was a former ( and for all we know ) may still be an alcoholic! There are much bigger things Obama has to worry about right now!

Posted by: aster2 | January 21, 2009 6:19 PM | Report abuse

TIMNGUYEN1?
DO NOT LISTEN TO WHAT BARACK OBAMA SAYS, BUT CAREFULLY WATCH WHAT HE DOES !!!

A lot of people will be blind to what President Obama does because they won't be able to see past the HALO that floats above him.

Posted by: FlashClements | January 21, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

TIMNGUYEN1, enough with the whack job spamming, this has to be the 5th time I've seen you post the exact same paranoid rant. It's tiresome and it makes you look mentally unstable.

Posted by: timscanlon | January 21, 2009 6:51 PM | Report abuse

After what this country has been through during the past eight years, I can't believe what I'm reading. The man has been president for one day. It is up to you and me to keep an eye on what our government does. It's too bad that so many of us didn't do a very good job until yesterday.

Posted by: luckytn | January 21, 2009 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Greenspan said the couldn't believe bankers wouldn't regulate themselves and not enrich themselves from bad loans and derivatives. Absurd. When has man regulated himself? The invertebrate took a passing swipe at Republicans saying they should have told the truth about invading Iraq for its oil. Well where were you Greenspan the last eight years? They gave tax breaks to every one, every business; sixty percent of corporations pay no tax whatsover. Most of the tax breaks were hidden in war appropriations bills and the Homeland Security Act while they wrote bad checks to invade countries, manufacture every weapon known to man and sold to arm the world, built a missile system above Poland with bad checks that doesn't work like the one in America built with bad checks and doesn't work. Republicans did this. We had a surplus and no wars. Republicans shouldn't offer any more help right now.

Posted by: rhyer | January 21, 2009 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Now we are seeing real values. Not bluster and buzz words and deceit, but what matters: acts of good faith. THIS is how good people act toward those they care about most. This is a singularly right-hearted and intelligent group of people. We are extraordinarily fortunate to have them in the White House.

Posted by: sjohnston1 | January 21, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse

If O is promoting more transparency will he live by his rules on the information that people should know:

1. Occidental College records
2. Columbia College records
3. Columbia Thesis paper
4. Harvard College records
5. Selective Service Registration
6. Medical records
7. Illinois State Senate records
8. Law practice client list
9. Certified Copy of original Birth certificate
10. Harvard Law Review articles published
12. University of Chicago scholarly articles

Posted by: ApplyCS | January 21, 2009 8:10 PM | Report abuse

Look...it took 8 years to get Bush out of the white house, it'll be much harder to remove him from the executive staff.

Posted by: dubya19391 | January 21, 2009 8:19 PM | Report abuse

Man.. How much for that toilet plunger...Transparency has set up a new industry for all bloggers... go get the info ....imagine what you'll find....wow...

Posted by: robinhood2 | January 21, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Sour Grapes TIMNGUYEN1 or just a W. supporter?

Posted by: andio76 | January 21, 2009 8:34 PM | Report abuse

The only FOIA requests my office ever got was from special interest, corporate groups trying to subvert the regulatory process for their own personal and stockholders benefit. Oh well, so much for re-regulation!

Posted by: magellan1 | January 21, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Yipee ... FOIA ... I am going to find out if ATF really 'opens up' ... the feds ATF and FBI tried to put the screws on me because people working there wanted to take revenge on me when I worked there as a consultant ... they monitored me, with video, and FBI personnel and email and audio and did surveillance on me even after I was let go 'because of no funding' ... and even after I was let go they monitored me like a TERRORIST when I went to conferences and ate at a Subway near my home ... my phone, all my personal finance and mortgage records were made 'public' to most government people, including to non-government, civilian consultants (all of them were made to sign a NSL or something sheet), just to get me fired ... and I am a simple hindu guy, harrassed by three people there ... Tom, Mark and Karen Mudd (who said 'I will get you fired' as she passed by my cube) ... they had all 450 people or so in the new ATF building gunning for me and spying on me ... even as I WENT TO THE MEN's room ... sounds weird right ... SORRY WRONG ... I was made a scapegoat, and kicked around for making too much ... much more than Tom Deegan ... Thank you, thank you Borak Husein Obama ... I am independent but I thank God voted for you ... FOIA ...

Posted by: DShoes200 | January 21, 2009 9:05 PM | Report abuse

So far so good. But it won't be complete until he overturns the previous orders sealing presidential records of Clinton and both Bushes that belong to us.

Posted by: infuse | January 21, 2009 9:29 PM | Report abuse

These orders are good. The follow-on directive should clearly specify how transparency will be measured and that metric made available to all.

Posted by: steveandjanereed1 | January 21, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse

For 2 decades laxness/oversight in government regulation have led to numerous accounts of robber barons in big business and possibly government. Evidently individuals and certain groups have participated in conflicts of interest at the expense of the masses. Self restraint has failed miserably with the allowance of deregulation and enforcement of new regulations and caps of overhead may be needed initially at the government level then eventually at the level of big business. Is this not the process of checks and balances in democracy? Perhaps the president is making efforts to prevent excesses and abuses and trying to achieve a semblance of efficacy in government and a workable expense budget. The laundry list of cleaning house will be long... as determining how effectively the government agencies are performing and how much is being spent to achieve this can be tedious. This process may be disconcerting to those involved.

Posted by: desage | January 21, 2009 10:17 PM | Report abuse

O has and will continue to beat drums to appease his far left base; however, this, in all likelyhood will have little or no affect on FOIA. ATF and FBI, and many other agencies, will release little more information than they currently do. Several agencies operate FOIA according to statute applicable to information they can and cannot release.

But, it sounds good, doesn't it? It makes the papers, doesn't it? Doesn't it give the appearance that O is doing something?

Posted by: freeways | January 22, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 22, 2009

MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

SUBJECT: Energy Windfall Auto Industry Offset Program

My Administration is committed to creating an effective, symbiotic relationship between energy producers and those whose products require that energy.

Effectively immediate, any excess windfall profits from all major energy production companies will be reapportioned directly to major US automakers to offset any losses resulting from energy market manipulation.

Peace and chicken grease. ~ O

Posted by: drumz | January 22, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

Poor,poor,poor sorelosers. How dreadful it must be to live without seeing the Great Divider's ugly face. They should move to Crawford, Texas and be branded property of smirky George Bush. There, they can live under his dictatorship. I hope these next four year will be the longest, loooooogest four years for the bigots who do not like Obama. Tough! Tough! Tough!

Posted by: BM9096 | January 22, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

I hope the Government Transparency includes all state agencies and open family courts where the public can see the lies and abuse by Child Protective Services and the courts toward the American family.

Posted by: unhappygrammy | January 22, 2009 8:04 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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