Partisanship, Who Needs It?

Partisanship, Who Needs It?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Obama's transparancy problem

When President Obama was campaigning for the Presidency,government transparancy was one of his rallying cries. His speeches were full of such gems as:

"When there is a bill that ends up on my desk as a president, you the public will have five days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it, so that you know what your government’s doing.”

"To achieve health care reform, "I'm going to have all the negotiations around a big table. We'll have doctors and nurses and hospital administrators. Insurance companies, drug companies -- they'll get a seat at the table, they just won't be able to buy every chair. But what we will do is, we'll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies. And so, that approach, I think is what is going to allow people to stay involved in this process."

" "No political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration."
Now you might ask, what has that last one have to do with transparancy, so I'll explain. On January 8, 2009, President-elect Barack Obama nominated lobbyist William Lynn as his Deputy Secretary of Defense. Objections were of course raised but lynn ended up being given a waiver by the administration and confirmed by the Senate. However other lobbyists followed and received their own wavers, some of whom were appointments not requiring Senate approval. Some other appointments don't even require waivers just "recusals" where the former lobbyist just voluntarily excuses himself from areas that he once lobbied for. But without the confirmation process little is know about the appointments, and even who all of them are. According to Polifact:
* Recusals appear to have even less documentation than waivers. We have yet to see a recusal "order," despite having asked the White House for them. We know there are at least two recusals; there may be more. We're not sure how recusals specifically differ from waivers because the White House has said little about the policy.

* The White House is not prompt about releasing the waivers. For two nominees who didn't require Senate approval, waivers were released weeks after they were signed and after the people took their positions. These two waivers were also substantially less detailed than the waiver issued for Lynn.

We haven't seen anything to make us change our ruling. But there's been a new development: Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa recently sent a letter asking for accountability about the recusals and waivers. (Grassley is one of four senators who voted against the nomination of William Lynn as a deputy secretary for defense; Lynn was a lobbyist for the defense contractor Raytheon.)

Grassley has asked Robert Cusick, director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, to require the Obama administration to release all waivers and recusals as they are issued and post the documentation to the Internet. Grassley said Cusick has that authority under the Ethics in Government Act.

Well, so much for transpaancy on that. I could go into his appointment of over 30 "Czars" but I think the point has already been made, now to the other items.

That healthcare reform on C-Span pledge, well it just never happened.

Of course the Presidnet spins this in this way:

Not one has bought this line except for his most ardent cheerleaders.

Sources as varied as Salon, The Huffington Post,CNBC, Air America, Slate,The National Review, Glenn Greenwald, etc. are all critical of the backroom deals the Obama administration made. Where was C-Span then?

Now on to the first item mentioned, the 5 day pledge. The Cato institute details the lack of compliance with this promise back in April.

Of the eleven bills President Obama has signed, only six have been posted on None have been posted for a full five days after presentment from Congress.

Several times the White House has posted a bill while it remains in Congress, attempting to satisfy the five-day rule. But this doesn’t give the public an opportunity to review the final legislation – especially any last minute amendments. Versions of the children’s health insurance legislation, the omnibus spending bill, and the omnibus public land management bill were linked to from while making their ways through Congress, but not posted in final form.

In some areas Obama has actually moved forward on transparency, but sometimes only due due to political pressure. For example the releasing of White House logs, which were in answer to lawsuits by watchdog groups and court rulings. Even after release the logs aren't easily acessable for previous periods before the turnaround and detailed requests for time and visitors must be made before the information is released, hardly transparant.

It seems to me that the way to transparancy in the Executive branch is still via watchdogs, investigative reporting by the media, and lawsuits. On its own, the Obama administration does not seem very transparent at all.

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