Strike one against White House transparency

U.S. President Obama appears to break a government transparency promise.

New U.S. President Barack Obama promised during his campaign to post all nonemergency legislation on WhiteHouse.gov before signing it as a way to allow the public to review and comment on it.

On Jan. 20, Obama's first day in office, a blog post on WhiteHouse.gov repeated that promise. On Thursday, Obama appeared to break that promise with the first piece of legislation he signed into law.

Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, designed to make it easier for women to sue employers that pay them less than their male counterparts. The text of the legislation was apparently posted about the same time that Obama signed it.

"We are informed that the bill has been posted on the White House web site and is now open for comment ... after the President signed it," Paul Blumenthal, research assistant for the Sunlight Foundation, wrote on the government watchdog group's blog. "I am not sure what constitutes 'emergency' legislation; providing emergency appropriations in response to a disaster or attack would apply. This was supposed to be a major element to the President's transparency efforts."

A White House spokeswoman said she couldn't comment specifically on the Lilly Ledbetter legislation, but she said there have been some technical and other issues preventing White House staff from getting content up on the Web site as fast as they'd like.

Several groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, have praised Obama's efforts to improve government transparency. Obama issued a memo Jan. 21 telling federal agencies that they should generally presume government documents are available to the public when they receive Freedom of Information Act requests. That memo reversed a policy from former President George Bush's administration, saying government documents should generally be presumed closed.

The Sunlight Foundation has praised Obama for setting up the Recovery.gov Web site to track government spending on a huge economic stimulus package, and it has noted other Obama transparency efforts.

But that didn't stop Blumenthal from commenting on the apparent broken promise. "It is too bad they let this transparency promise slip on the very first piece of legislation that hit the President's desk," he wrote. "After a few transparency wins for the administration, it looks like they've hit their first fail."

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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