Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Transparency Schmansparency, Part 2,107

Even the AP has this one nailed, from the headline on down:

PROMISES, PROMISES: A closed meeting on openness

WASHINGTON — It's hardly the image of transparency the Obama administration wants to project: A workshop on government openness is closed to the public.

The event Monday for federal employees is a fitting symbol of President Barack Obama's uneven record so far on the Freedom of Information Act, a big part of keeping his campaign promise to make his administration the most transparent ever. As Obama's first year in office ends, the government's actions when the public and press seek information are not yet matching up with the president's words.

Uh...ya' think??  But hey, even a blind squirrel gets a nut occasionally, and that's apparently what happened with the AP here.  Good for them.  More:

...on some important issues, his administration produced information only after government watchdogs and reporters spent weeks or months pressing, in some cases suing.

Those include what cars people were buying using the $3 billion Cash for Clunkers program (it turned out the most frequent trades involved pickups for pickups with only slightly better gas mileage); how many times airplanes have collided with birds (a lot); whether lobbyists and donors meet with the Obama White House (they do); rules about the interrogation of terror suspects (the FBI and CIA disagreed over what was permitted); and who was speaking in private with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (he has close relationships with a cadre of Wall Street executives whose multibillion-dollar companies survived the economic crisis with his help).

The administration has refused to turn over important records. Obama signed a law that let the Pentagon refuse to release photographs showing U.S. troops abusing detainees, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates then did so. The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has refused to release details about the CIA's "black site" rendition program. The Federal Aviation Administration wouldn't turn over letters and e-mails among FAA officials about reporters' efforts to learn more about planes that crash into birds.

Just last week, a State Department deputy assistant secretary, Llewellyn Hedgbeth, said at a public conference that "as much as we want to promote transparency," her agency will work just as hard to protect classified materials or information that would put the United States in a bad light.

Yeah, I get that, I really do.  Some things shouldn't be made public, and I'm okay with not knowing anything about the CIA's black site program or the financial tracking program that successfully froze many terrorists' assets before the New York Times 'leaked' it and gave the terrorists a heads up.  But, when I think about things that should be kept secret, I'm talking about things like national security, war plans, and intelligence considerations...not how much money was spent on a wasteful domestic car-junking subsidy program.  More:

People who routinely request government records said they don't see much progress on Obama's transparency pledge.

"It's either smoke and mirrors or it was done for the media," said Jeff Stachewicz, founder of Washington-based FOIA Group Inc., which files hundreds of requests every month across the government on behalf of companies, law firms and news organizations. "This administration, when it wants something done, there are no excuses. You just don't see a big movement toward transparency."

The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, said it filed 45 requests for records since Obama became president, and that agencies such as NASA and the Energy Department have been mostly cooperative in the spirit of Obama's promises. But the FBI and Justice Department? Not so much, said Nate Cardozo, working for the foundation on a project to expose new government surveillance technologies.

The article goes on with more examples.  The bottom line is that the Obama administration has broken yet another campaign promise (are there any he hasn't broken yet??), and has proven to be even worse at transparency than the Bush administration was, especially on smaller things that are politically damaging but ultimately not critical to keep under wraps, and thus shouldn't be withheld from the public.

While it's certainly a major concern, are we really surprised that this is the behavior of the Czar-Appointer-In-Chief?

There's my two cents.

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