Secrecy News

Obama: We Will “Do Our Business in the Light of Day”

Updated below

President Barack Obama found room in his inaugural address to affirm a commitment to open, accountable government.

“And those of us who manage the public’s knowledge dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government,” the President said.

There are several notable aspects to this formulation.  First, it clearly states that government information belongs to the public and that it is only temporarily managed by its current custodians in office.  It reasserts the original constitutional linkage between public disclosure and wise government spending.  It acknowledges the need for reform and correction of bad government information habits.  And it implicitly recognizes that the vital relationship of trust between the people and the government has been broken and needs to be restored.

Some of the Obama Administration’s initial steps towards greater openness seem to reflect more enthusiasm than careful consideration.

For example, the new White House web site now states that “We will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it.”

This does not make a lot of sense, since the White House cannot amend legislation that has already been passed by Congress or take any other action in response to public “review and comment” except to veto the measure.  Public comments on pending legislation need to be directed to members of Congress, whose specific function is to represent their constituents’ interests and concerns.

Nevertheless, the proposal is another sign of a new willingness to engage the public through increased disclosure and communication.  And it’s another reason to stop and wonder at this new Administration.

Update: And see President Obama Declares “A New Era of Openness”, January 22.