President Obama campaigned with the promise of change, a commitment to government openness and a pledge to uphold high ethical standards. On his first full day in office, the new president showed a willingness to turn rhetoric into action.
After eight years of government in the shadows and preferential treatment of corporate lobbyists under his predecessor, President Obama’s directives and executive orders on presidential records, the Freedom of Information Act, transparency and open government, and ethics are not only important in restoring public access to critical information and holding government accountable, but they serve to reaffirm the hope our nation has in his presidency. By issuing strict rules on the future lobbying activities of his administration, President Obama slowed the revolving door that has allowed so many high-ranking government officials to enrich themselves at the public’s expense. And by emphasizing the openness of government records, the orders help to ensure that abuses of power will not go unnoticed and uncorrected.
Public Citizen called for the critical reforms President Obama signed Wednesday. We have fought in court and in Congress to repeal the former administration’s efforts to shield presidential records and withhold information from the public; we have urged steps be taken to increase transparency and openness; and we have long pushed for stricter rules on ethics and more accountability. The directive to the incoming attorney general, the chief technology officer, the director of the Office of Management and Budget and all of the agencies is clear: The new administration will operate under the presumption of disclosure and with an “unprecedented level of openness in Government.” The public will be involved more in making policy where once only lobbyists had influence.
We urged President Obama to act on his commitments to ethics and openness on day one of his presidency. His swift action and the symbolism of putting these orders at the top of his agenda speak volumes about the possibility of change under the new administration.
We are struck by the words President Obama offered Wednesday, that his “administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known.” There is much more to be done if President Obama wants to keep his promise of ending the insidious cycle of business-as-usual governance but we are very encouraged with his first steps.