Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Most Opaque Transparency Possible

Back in mid-March, Hot Air reported on this beautiful example of transparency in the Obama administration:

As Taegan Goddard said, you just can’t make this stuff up. First, the White House announced that Barack Obama would receive an award for transparency to celebrate Sunshine Week, a way to highlight the need for openness in government. McClatchy couldn’t figure out what the award was, or which organization exactly was presenting it, mainly because the White House didn’t put the information in its announcement. McClatchy had to ask:

The White House, responding to a request for more information, said it’s an award from organizers of the Freedom of Information Day Conference and that five transparency advocates will present it: Gary Bass, Founder and Executive Director of OMB Watch; Tom Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive at the George Washington University; Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight; Lucy Dalglish, the Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Patrice McDermott, Director of Open The Government.

But as Andrew Malcolm points out, the award ceremony had the unique condition that the press couldn’t ask questions afterward — just like everything else on the schedule for Obama on the day he was to receive his award for openness:

President Obama was scheduled to receive an award in the afternoon in the middle of Sunshine Week from a coalition of good government groups for his much-promised policy of government transparency. Strangely, this award for government openness was to include only photographers. So, no meddlesome media questions.

Worse, the transparency award was scheduled for a day when every other presidential activity was closed to the media and public. Not the best context and an obvious invitation to “wait-one-minute-stories” like this.

Andrew also sends readers to this AP report on the openness of President Obama’s administration:

People requested information 544,360 times last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act from the 35 largest agencies, up nearly 41,000 more than the previous year, according to an analysis by the Associated Press of new federal data. But the government responded to nearly 12,400 fewer requests. …

The Obama administration censored 194 pages of internal e-mails about its Open Government Directive that the AP requested more than one year ago.

The December 2009 directive requires every agency to take immediate, specific steps to open their operations up to the public. But the White House Office of Management and Budget blacked-out entire pages of some e-mails between federal employees discussing how to apply the new openness rules, and it blacked-out one e-mail discussing how to respond to AP’s request for information about the transparency directive.

By late yesterday, Taegan informed us, the award ceremony was canceled:

However, reporters were told the event was postponed “due to changes to the President’s schedule.”

And the very best part?

No other reason was given.


Oh, but it doesn't end there. Turns out the event wasn't cancelled after all:

Remember? This was the award that a collection of pro-transparency groups wanted to give Barack Obama, in an event scheduled on a day with nothing but closed-press events on the presidential schedule. For the award presentation itself, Obama would only allow pictures with a pool photographer, but no questions from reporters. The irony reached epic levels when the White House abruptly canceled the transparency award ceremony and refused to say why.

Don’t think it could get any worse? Wrong:

President Obama finally and quietly accepted his “transparency” award from the open government community this week — in a closed, undisclosed meeting at the White House on Monday.

The presenters were a bit surprised to see no media present for the award handoff:

This time, Obama met quietly in the Oval Office with Gary Bass of OMB Watch, Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Patrice McDermott of, without disclosing the meeting on his public schedule or letting photographers or print reporters into the room.

“Our understanding going into the meeting was that it would have a pool photographer and a print reporter, and it turned out to be a private meeting,” Bass told POLITICO. “He was so on point, so on target in the conversation with us, it is baffling why he would not want that message to be more broadly heard by reporters and the public interest community and the public generally.”

Actually, Gary, we’re all wondering just a little why you and your fellow “transparency activists” allowed the award ceremony to be conducted in secret. It doesn’t help Obama’s credibility, and it certainly isn’t doing wonders for yours, either.

Issues of credibility aside, this pretty much encapsulates the Obama administration: narcissistic hypocrisy at its finest! A final parting thought:

What better way to celebrate (a) DHS being forced to explain why it stalled on FOIA requests, (b) the White House telling Congress to get bent on the War Powers Act, and (c) a media cycle dominated by Encyclopedia Trump and the case of the missing birth certificate than with an award for transparency and accountability — presented secretly?

Feel free to continue laughing for as long as you like.

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