More Transparency in the White House

Posted on 04. Sep, 2009 by in Uncategorized

Today President Obama announced that the White House will open its visitor logs to the public. To this I say “Bravo”.  I think it’s a great effort towards his promise of political transparency and while this is a history-making precedent, I wonder if it goes far enough.  Sure there are obvious pitfalls-some records will be held back, due to national security and other issues, which is understandable.  However there are also the names of guests who are considered to be purely personal, and those names will not be released.  While I don’t really care to know that Obama’s mother’s-cousin’s-brother’s-son-in-law came over for Sunday dinner, the “purely personal” guest list could potentially hide lobbyist, or others with a political agenda, listed as personal friends. 

On the flip side of the personal guest list argument, the disclosures will not include proposed meeting agendas, but will include, names, dates, lengths of visits and participants. My concern is that without information regarding discussion topics, these lists have the potential to be exploited. Perhaps I have an altruistic view of how Washington works but what if a lobbyist who is most widely known for promoting the concerns major pharmaceutical companies doubles as a crusader for Gay rights.  How does any one know which client the representative is speaking for?

In addition, the White House is only going to disclose this information for visits starting on September 15, 2009.  If the point of this effort is to turn a campaign promise into a political reality, why not go back to January 21, 2009?  And why not take this one step further and require the legislative branch to disclose their visitor lists as well.

While I applaud Obama’s efforts, the idea of transparency in government still has a long way to go.  Americans do have the right to know whose voices are being heard in the policy making process, but what do we do if we don’t like it?

We should consider this a step in the right direction, but that’s all it is – a step.  It may be across the starting line but it’s still the beginning of the race.

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