Secrecy News

A Seat at the Obama Transition Table

The Obama transition team announced last week that it would provide unrestricted online access to information and documents submitted by outside groups and individuals.

“Every day, we meet with organizations who present ideas for the Transition and the Administration, both orally and in writing,” wrote transition co-chair John Podesta in a December 5 memo (pdf). “We want to ensure that we give the American people a ‘seat at the table’ and that we receive the benefit of their feedback.”

One might think that the disclosure of advice and recommendations contributed by outside parties is a small, easy step to take.  But remarkably, such outside advice has often been kept secret.  Most famously, Vice President Cheney fought to preserve the secrecy of his 2001 Energy Task Force.

Even non-zealots like the members of the CIA Historical Review Panel (HRP) have surrendered to secrecy.  “Because the HRP’s advice to the DCIA must be completely frank and candid, we are not reporting Panel recommendations,” wrote panel chair Prof. Robert Jervis of Columbia University in the Panel’s latest statement, implying strangely that his panel is unable to express its views on CIA classification policy candidly in public.  There is no indication so far that would-be Obama advisors feel any similar constraint.

The broader significance of the new Obama transition team policy was assessed by John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation in “Obama and Affirmative Disclosure.”

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