Obama’s call for open government will benefit journalists, public

By Erica Christoffer

A trend toward secrecy and limited government access may soon be changing in Washington.

In one of his first orders of business, President Barack Obama pledged a new standard of openness in the White House and announced a policy that airs on the side of access to government.

“Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known. To be sure, issues like personal privacy and national security must be treated with the care they demand, but the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it,” Obama said.
“Freedom of Information Act is perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent and of holding it accountable. And I expect members of my administration not simply to live up to the letter, but also the spirit of this law.”

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which was created to ensure transparency in government by allowing the public access to records and information, was undermined during the Bush Administration. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, a 2006 Coalition of Journalists for Open Government study of Justice Department data found that “FOIA requests were taking longer and were less likely to be fully fulfilled than at any point since 1998, when the relevant data started being archived.”

As the Washington Post points out, Obama’s order could open up a flood of documents previously off limits under the Bush Administration – including those related to Guantanamo Bay.

Advocacy groups see it as a tempered victory.

“That this message was issued on Day One is a huge step toward opening access to the federal government. And it is crucial that this message came from the very top,” Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said in a statement. “However, the public will need to be no less diligent in utilizing the laws to request information and continuing to hold this new administration accountable just as any other.”

Follow this link to reach the official White House Briefing Room for executive orders, proclamations, press releases and the presidential blog.

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