Obama’s First Broken Campaign Promise

Over on the Tech Liberation Front blog, I’ve been following the Obama administration’s early steps on transparency, a subject we dove into at a December Cato policy forum called “Just Give Us the Data!

President Obama committed to make his administration “the most open and transparent in history.” Boilerplate promises like this often go into campaigns and electioneering. But as a senator, Obama was a leading proponent of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which created USASpending.gov. Unlike typical politicians promising the most ethical [whatever-they're-running-for] in history, President Obama and his staff know what transparency is and how to deliver it.

Breaking from the pack, who were (rightly) appreciative of early presidential memoranda calling for new guidelines governing the Freedom of Information Act and an Open Government Directive, I noted the absence of concrete action on the part of the White House itself.

The new administration did not port over the transition’s excellent “Seat at the Table” program, in which documents submitted to the transition team were posted online and subjected to public comment. That failure I called “The Transparency Dog that Didn’t Bark.”

The economic stimulus bill contains a helpful, if imperfect, requirement for disclosure of stimulus spending on a site called Recovery.gov — perhaps the most-visited non-existent Web site in history.

The White House is not walking the talk on transparency, and yesterday the president violated a campaign promise on transparency. Instead of posting bills sent to him by Congress for five days and taking public comment, President Obama signed non-emergency legislation the day after receiving it. PolitiFact.com rated this as President Obama’s first broken campaign promise.

The president’s good intentions are not in doubt, but nobody ever said delivering on transparency was going to be easy. So far, he seems to be having a rough time of it. The Obama administration can still deliver revolutionary change in the transparency area, but it has to actually work at it and take concrete steps.

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