Obama Transparency Record
From OpenCongress Wiki
This page is devoted to President Obama's transparency record from the time he was in the Senate until the present.
For excerpts from Campaign and Transition materials, see Ellen Miller's retrospective blog post. For general transition related materials, see this Open Congress page, complied by John Wonderlich at the Sunlight Foundation, Allison Broad of the Open House Project, and the Open Senate Project.
Obama's Ethics Agenda, as according to Change.gov:
Shine the Light on Washington Lobbying
- Centralize Ethics and Lobbying Information for Voters: Obama and Biden will create a centralized Internet database of lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings in a searchable, sortable and downloadable format.
- Require Independent Monitoring of Lobbying Laws and Ethics Rules: Obama and Biden will use the power of the presidency to fight for an independent watchdog agency to oversee the investigation of congressional ethics violations so that the public can be assured that ethics complaints will be investigated.
- End the Practice of Writing Legislation Behind Closed Doors: As president, Barack Obama will restore the American people's trust in their government by making government more open and transparent. Obama will work to reform congressional rules to require all legislative sessions, including committee mark-ups and conference committees, to be conducted in public. By making these practices public, the American people will be able to hold their leaders accountable for wasteful spending and lawmakers won't be able to slip favors for lobbyists into bills at the last minute.
Shine the Light on Federal Contracts, Tax Breaks and Earmarks
- Create a Public "Contracts and Influence" Database: As president, Obama will create a "contracts and influence" database that will disclose how much federal contractors spend on lobbying, and what contracts they are getting and how well they complete them.
- Expose Special Interest Tax Breaks to Public Scrutiny: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will ensure that any tax breaks for corporate recipients -- or tax earmarks -- are also publicly available on the Internet in an easily searchable format.
- End Abuse of No-Bid Contracts: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will end abuse of no-bid contracts by requiring that nearly all contract orders over $25,000 be competitively awarded.
- Sunlight Before Signing: Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them. As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.
- Shine Light on Earmarks and Pork Barrel Spending: Obama's Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act will shed light on all earmarks by disclosing the name of the legislator who asked for each earmark, along with a written justification, 72 hours before they can be approved by the full Senate.
Bring Americans Back into their Government
- Hold 21st Century Fireside Chats: Obama will bring democracy and policy directly to the people by requiring his Cabinet officials to hold periodic national broadband townhall meetings to discuss issues before their agencies.
- Make White House Communications Public: Obama will amend executive orders to ensure that communications about regulatory policymaking between persons outside government and all White House staff are disclosed to the public.
- Conduct Regulatory Agency Business in Public: Obama will require his appointees who lead the executive branch departments and rulemaking agencies to conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can see these debates in person or watch them on the internet.
- Release Presidential Records: Obama and Biden will nullify attempts to make the timely release of presidential records more difficult.
Free the Executive Branch from Special Interest Influence
- Close the Revolving Door on Former and Future Employers: No political appointees in the 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.
- Free Career Officials from the Influence of Politics: Obama will issue an executive order asking all new hires at the agencies to sign a form affirming that no political appointee offered them the job solely on the basis of political affiliation or contribution.
- Reform the Political Appointee Process: FEMA Director Michael Brown was not qualified to head the agency, and the result was a disaster for the people of the Gulf Coast. But in the Obama-Biden administration, every official will have to rise to the standard of proven excellence in the agency's mission.
- Enforce Executive Branch Ethics: The Obama-Biden administration will give the Office of Governmental Ethics strong enforcement authority with the ability to make binding regulations, and it will work with inspectors general in all the federal agencies to enforce ethics rules, minimize waste and ensure federal officials are not using their offices for personal gain. The OGE will also be the clearinghouse of all public records relevant to ethics in the Executive Branch and place this information on its website. Finally, the OGE will promulgate rules and procedures to record all oral and in-person "lobbying contacts" between registered lobbyists and political appointees and make those records available to the public in a searchable computerized database.
Spend Taxpayer Money Wisely
- Performance Team and Chief Performance Officer: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will create a focused team within the White House that will work with agency leaders and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to improve results and outcomes for federal government programs while eliminating waste and inefficiency. This unit, a SWAT team, will be composed of top-performing and highly-trained government professionals and be headed by a new Chief Performance Officer (CPO) who will report directly to the president. The CPO will work with federal agencies to set tough performance targets and hold managers responsible for progress. The president will meet regularly with cabinet officers to review the progress their agencies are making toward meeting performance improvement targets.
- Streamline Government Procurement: Barack Obama will implement the GAO's recommendations to reduce erroneous federal payments, reduce procurement costs with purchase cards, and implement better management of surplus federal property. These initiatives will save $4.5 billion a year.
- Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.
- Line-by-Line Review of Spending: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will conduct an exhaustive line-by-line review of the federal budget, work to eliminate government programs that are not performing, and demand that new initiatives be selected on the basis of their merits -- not through a political process that rewards lobbyists and campaign donors.
- Slash Earmarks: Earmarks grew from $7.8 billion in 1994 to $29 billion in 2006. Barack Obama is committed to returning earmarks to less than $7.8 billion a year, the level they were at before 1994.
- Shed Sunlight on Corporate Tax Loopholes: The tax code is riddled with corporate loopholes and preferential regulations that benefit a handful of companies at the expense of the rest of the business community as well as ordinary families. Some large companies have managed to secure tax breaks or hide their profits in overseas tax havens to avoid paying any American corporate taxes at all. Obama and Biden will require any tax bill considered by Congress to include a Corporate Tax Impact Statement that would disclose which industries or specific companies would be expected to benefit from the new tax breaks.
Relevant Exceprts from Obama's Technology Agenda, as according to Change.gov:
Create a Transparent and Connected Democracy
- Open Up Government to its Citizens: Use cutting-edge technologies to create a new level of transparency, accountability, and participation for America's citizens.
- Bring Government into the 21st Century: Use technology to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while ensuring the security of our networks. Appoint the nation's first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure the safety of our networks and lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.
- Senator Obama sponsored S. 2590 (THOMAS, GovTrack, OpenCongress), or the Federal Funding Accountabilty and Transparency Act, which created USASpending.gov, the first single federal website detailing federal grants and contracts.
- He also sponsored or cosponsored two successful amendments to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act, or HLOGA (S.1), requiring Senate committees to post transcripts of their public meetings (S.AMDT.15 to S.1), and to add a fundraising disclosure requirement for lobbyists (S.AMDT.41 to S.1).
- Senator Obama also proposed the Congressional Ethics Enforcement Commission Act of 2006, which sought to establish an outside ethics commission to receive complaints from the public on alleged ethics violations (S. 2259).
- He also proposed the CLEAN UP Act, which aimed to open conference committee proceedings and require full disclosure of the contents of conference reports and all other legislation.(S. 2179)
- He sponsored the Transparency and Integrity in Earmarks Act, under which all earmarks, including the name of the requestor and a justification for the earmark, would have to be disclosed 72 hours before they could be considered by the full Senate. Senators would be prohibited from advocating for an earmark if they have a financial interest in the project or earmark recipient. And, earmark recipients would have to disclose to an Office of Public Integrity the amount that they have spent on registered lobbyists and the names of those lobbyists. Several of these provisions were included in the ethics and lobbying reform bill that passed the Senate in January 2007.
White House Record
Open Government Directive
Transparency and Open Government Memo
January 21, 2009, on his first full day in office, President Obama issued a transparency and open government memo.
Most notably, the Memo stipulates that government should be transparent, participatory, and collaborative, and that:
- I direct the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Administrator of General Services, to coordinate the development by appropriate executive departments and agencies, within 120 days, of recommendations for an Open Government Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB, that instructs executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth in this memorandum. The independent agencies should comply with the Open Government Directive.
The memo directs the OMB Director to "coordinate the development... of recommendations for and Open Government Directive" within 120 days of January 21st, which is May 21st 2009. This is sometimes misinterpreted as a deadline for the Open Government Directive. The May 21st 120 day deadline refers to recommendations from agencies, not the directive itself.
The White House initiated a three piece public process to shape the Open Government Directive: As described on WhiteHouse.gov/open, they are: Brainstorm, Discuss, and Draft
- Brainstorm -- http://opengov.ideascale.com/ (on Ideascale)
- Discuss -- http://blog.ostp.gov/ (on the OSTP blog)
- Draft -- http://www.mixedink.com/OpenGov/ (on MixedInk)
While we don't know everything going on within government to create the directive, OSTP did release an anonymized version of their interior discussion on transparency reform, available here.
The Open Government Progress Report to the American People - December 2009
Contains information on steps taken by the administration to that date and goals still to be met. Appendix 2 lists cabinet level projects aimed at Open Government directives and goals. Appendix 3 lists a selection of transparency milestones, datasets released, and projects completed.
Sunlight has written extensively on the OGD since the progress report. Most recently, we noted that some of the information released had been helpful, but ultimately concluded that the results have been mixed, at best.
Presidential Records Act
1st day memo -- http://govpulse.us/entries/2009/01/26/E9-1773/freedom-of-information-act AG Holder Memo -- [www.justice.gov/ag/foia-memo-march2009.pdf PDF] (replaces Ashcroft memo) DOJ Press Release: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2009/March/09-ag-253.html
More recently the Obama Administration has come under some fire for its stances of freedom of information and secrecy
Personal Financial Disclosures of Top Officials
Financial disclosure forms are not available in a uniform way and must be requested. ProPublica has taken upon themselves (at least twice) to request all executive branch disclosures and post them publicly online. View them here (Last updated, summer 2010).
The White House has made a point to publicize President Obama and Vice President Biden's financial disclosures
Five Day Pledge
President Obama pledged to post bills online for five days between the time they were passed by congress and when he signed them. The administration quickly changed the nature of this pledge after it failed to follow through and was criticized as being too little too late. They stated that they would begin posting bills online as soon as it was clear they would have the votes to pass congress. More information:
Recovery.gov was set up to track spending linked to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It was designed to provide taxpayers with user-friendly tools to track how and wear recovery funds were spent.
Recovery.gov on Twitter
their own section
On the White House website http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/ethics-commitments-executive-branch-personnel
The administration also pledged to set up an online hub for ethics information, tentatively to be called ethics.gov. The website does not yet exist, and as of September 2010 there had been little progress.
During the 2008 campaign Obama attacked George W. Bush for his record on invoking the "state secrets" privilege to avoid disclosing certain facts. Since gaining office, Obama has invoked the privilege on numerous occaisions. A few are highlighted below.
- The 180-degree reversal of Obama’s State Secrets position - Salon.com
- Citing Obama’s State Secrets Privilege, Court Tosses Torture Case - Wired
- Obama invokes 'state secrets' claim to dismiss suit against targeting of U.S. citizen al-Aulaqi - Washington Post
- Obama's Secrets - LA Times Editorial
- Obama Backs Off a Reversal on Secrets (On state secrets, Obama is sounding like Bush) - New York Times
Live Streaming Healthcare Deliberations
While the OSTP Open Government blog (which moved to the White House) is, in a sense, entirely devoted to public dialog around transparency issues, the administration has held several more persistent dialogs, devoted to:
cookies, access policy, OGD,
Relevant Sunlight Blog Posts
- Secret Cabinets of Cash - John Wonderlich 2/13/2012
- Transparency in the State of the Union - John Wonderlich 1/24/2012
- Obama's Open Government Directive, Two Years On - John Wonderlich 12/7/2011
- Obama Administration May Take on Earmarks - John Wonderlich 11/7/2011
- Preparing for the US National Action Plan - John Wonderlich 9/16/2011
- Two Suggestions for the US National Action Plan - John Wonderlich 8/31/2011
- CRS Report Highlights President's Authority Over Federal Contractors - Jacob Hutt 6/23/2011
- White House Establishes Government Accountability and Transparency Board - Kevin Koehler 6/13/2011
- Transparency in the SOTU - John Wonderlich 1/26/2011
- New White House Memo on Regulatory Compliance 1/18/2011
- New Batch of White House Visitor Logs Released - Brad Bauman 2/2/2010
- "Put it on CSPAN" Translated - John Wonderlich 2/1/2010
- President Obama on Influence Peddling - Daniel Schuman 1/24/2010
- A Watershed Moment in Transparency and Accountability - Ellen Miller 12/11/2009
- New Stimulus Lobbying Policy Released - John Wonderlich 7/26/2009
- White House Publishes Staff Salaries - John Wonderlich 7/2/2009
- Today is 120 Days Since the Open Government Memo - John Wonderlich 5/21/2009
- White House Lobbying Meeting: Public Debrief - John Wonderlich 5/6/2009
- New OMB Memo Clarifies Lobbying Restrictions - John Wonderlich 4/12/2009
- White House Adds Web Access to Personal Financial Disclosures - John Wonderlich 4/6/2009
- White House: Where is the CTO? - Ellen Miller 2/10/2009
- Yet Another Bill Not Given the 5-Day Comment Period - Paul Blumenthal 2/4/2009
- On the 5-Day Bill Posting Pledge - Paul Blumenthal 2/2/2009
- Not 21st Century Style Disclosure - Ellen Miller 1/30/2009
- White House Breaks Transparency Promise - Paul Blumenthal 1/29/2009
- LTE: NYTimes Executive Branch Ethics: Let the Light Shine In - Ellen Miller 1/29/2009
- Recovery.gov - Paul Blumenthal 1/28/2009
- 'Direct to Constituent' Communications - Ellen Miller 1/28/2009
- Executive Orders and Whitehouse.gov - Paul Blumenthal 1/22/2009
- Memorandum on Transparency - Ellen Miller 1/22/2009
- Memorandum on FOIA - Ellen Miller 1/22/2009
- President Obama Issues New Transparency Policies - John Wonderlich 1/21/2009
- Federal CTO Wishlist - John Wonderlich 1/6/2009
- Obama and Affirmative Disclosure - John Wonderlich 12/8/2008
- Examiner Op-Ed on Transparency and Transition - John Wonderlich 11/21/2008
- Donor Disclosure During the Transition - Paul Blumenthal 11/12/2008
- A Good Time for Transparency - Ellen Miller 11/7/2008