Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Champions Open Government

Barack at American Dream Pizza in Corvallis, OR

Openness and "transparency" in government will be more than just talk under President Barack Obama, if the first day of his administration is any indication. Among his first official actions as president, Obama sent a memo to all executive departments and agencies that effectively reverses the U.S. government's stance on freedom of information.
"Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears," Obama wrote in the memo. "Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve."

The bottom line? "All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in (the Freedom of Information Act), and to usher in a new era of open Government," the president wrote.
Of course, we'll have to see if action follows these words. Nevertheless, the move was cheered by open records advocates, including the Society of Professional Journalists and the Columbia Journalism Review.

The move by the administration mirrors Oregon's open records law, one of the strongest in the United States. It too puts the presumption on openness, and that citizens are entitled to view and obtain copies of public documents unless they have been specifically put off limits by law (i.e. health and medical records).

From the first moments it was on the job, the Obama team moved quickly to transform the public information function of the administration, including a new White House blog that was launched at 12:01 p.m. Tuesday. The administration's swift changes in the information functions mirror the effectiveness Obama and his team demonstrated throughout the campaign, making exceptional use of social networking and other new information technologies.


p.s. It's interesting the chronicle the Obama campaign through the candidate's Flickr photostream, which includes the above photo from his stop at American Dream Pizza in Corvallis, Ore.

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