A few items of potentially good news today …
Obama limits ex-presidents’ discretion on records
By MARK SHERMAN
January 21, 2009
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has issued an executive order that limits the ability of former presidents to block the release of sensitive records of their time in the White House.
Obama’s action Wednesday in his first full day in office overturns an earlier order issued by George W. Bush.
Obama said former presidents may ask to have certain documents kept private, but they no longer may compel the National Archives to do so.
Obama’s executive order also makes clear that neither former vice presidents nor relatives of former presidents who have died have authority to keep records private.
Bush’s executive order, issued in November 2001, prompted a federal lawsuit and the partial invalidation of the order.
Obama Promises New Era of Openness
By Kim Zetter
January 21, 2009
Wired Blog Network Sunshine and Secrecy Category
United States President Barack Obama announced today that his administration will roll back the secrecy that has ruled during the Bush Administration and implement a new era of government openness and transparency.
Referring to the Freedom of Information Act as one of the most important tools of oversight the nation possesses, Obama called on all government agencies to err on the side of openness and release information whenever possible, which directly contradicts orders by the previous administration to look for reasons to withhold information whenever possible. Just because you have the legal right to withhold information, doesn’t mean you should, Obama said at a White House press conference and staff swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday.
“For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city,” he said.
Obama also said that any time the administration feels the need to withhold information about his presidency or a past presidency, it will consult legal counsel to ensure its decision is on solid ground.
“Information will not be withheld just because I say so,” he said. “It will be withheld because a separate authority believes it is well-founded in the Constitution.”
The Bush Administration was sharply criticized for undermining public records laws and creating new categories of protected records to classify information that was previously unclassified. The Administration was also charged repeatedly with withholding information from Congress.
Obama went on to say that his administration’s commitment to openness “means more than simply informing the American people how decisions are made.” It also means recognizing that the government doesn’t have all the answers.
To that end, he directed members of his administration to “find new ways of tapping the knowledge of ordinary Americans” — scientists, educators, entrepreneurs — to find ways to solve the problems of our times as one nation “by involving the American people in shaping the policies that affect their lives.”
Obama has also instituted a pay freeze on senior White House staff members and has implemented tighter restrictions on lobbyists, banning lobbyists who take a government job from working on matters that are related to their former lobbying activities or from approaching agencies they previously lobbied. Government workers who leave their public position to take an industry job will not be able to lobby their former agency or department for as long as Obama remains in office.
Lobbyists are also banned from giving gifts to anyone in the Obama Administration.
Obama halts all regulations pending review
Order goes out Tuesday afternoon, shortly after inauguration
Jan. 20, 2009
WASHINGTON – One of President Barack Obama’s first acts Tuesday was to put the brakes on all pending regulations that the Bush administration tried to push through in its waning days.
The order went out shortly after Obama was inaugurated president, in a memorandum signed by new White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
Former President George W. Bush’s administration moved into overdrive in the last year or so on a host of new regulatory proposals. Now the Obama administration will review everything that is still pending.
Obama’s first day: Pay freeze, lobbying rules
President also speaks with Mideast leaders, attends prayer service
NBC News and news services
January 21, 2009
WASHINGTON – In a first-day flurry of activity, President Barack Obama on Wednesday set up shop in the Oval Office, summoned advisers to begin dealing with war and recession and ordered new lobbying rules for “a clean break from business as usual.”
He also froze salaries for top White House staff members, placed phone calls to Mideast leaders and had aides circulate a draft executive order that would close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay within a year.
… ‘Too much secrecy’
In an attempt to deliver on pledges of a transparent government, Obama said he would change the way the federal government interprets the Freedom of Information Act. He said he was directing agencies that vet requests for information to err on the side of making information public — not to look for reasons to legally withhold it — an alteration to the traditional standard of evaluation.
Just because a government agency has the legal power to keep information private does not mean that it should, Obama said. Reporters and public-interest groups often make use of the law to explore how and why government decisions were made; they are often stymied as agencies claim legal exemptions to the law.
“For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city,” Obama said.
He said the orders he was issuing Wednesday will not “make government as honest and transparent as it needs to be” nor go as far as he would like.
“But these historic measures do mark the beginning of a new era of openness in our country,” Obama said. “And I will, I hope, do something to make government trustworthy in the eyes of the American people, in the days and weeks, months and years to come.”
Continued: NBC News