Commentary: Obama must do better with transparency

As a candidate for president, Sen. Barack Obama vowed to run an open government. He reiterated that pledge on Inauguration Day: "Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency," he said.

Nearly six months later, advocates of open government are still waiting for the president to fulfill this promise. Compared to the Bush presidency, this administration is doing better. But what President Obama has done, compared to what he said he would do, are two different things, thanks in part to the unequivocal language he used and the expectations he raised.

The president deserves credit for taking action on his first day in office to rescind a 2001 memo by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft giving agencies broad legal cover to reject public disclosure requests. He also revoked an executive order signed by former President George W. Bush in 2001 that limited release of former presidents' records, and replaced it with new language aimed at more transparency.

Ending unnecessary secrecy, however, has apparently proven tougher than the president expected. He has come down on the side of keeping the public uninformed in a variety of decisions that, as a candidate, he might well have scorned.

One of the most troubling instances occurred last month, involving White House refusal to turn over White House visitor logs by coal industry executives. An organization called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed a lawsuit, saying the Obama White House is essentially embracing the Bush administration position on the secrecy of the comings and goings of visitors to the executive mansion.

This makes for a murky transparency policy.

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