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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/29/09

Rights Groups Assess Obama's First 100 Days

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But it added that "there is still much work to be done as we move deeper into Obama's term in office."

"Overall, the Obama administration has set a strong tone on transparency, but a true assessment cannot occur until the development of agency-wide policies are put in place and fully implemented," the group said.

"During his first full day in office, Obama successfully communicated the importance of transparency to agencies and the public by issuing memorandums on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and on transparency and open government.

The FOIA memo gave instructions and guidance to the attorney general on issuing new policies on the implementation of FOIA. The transparency memo directed agencies to harness new technologies to make information available to the public and for top officials to draft a blueprint Open Government Directive. These immediate actions were followed by steps to bring greater transparency to the regulatory process and to how scientific actions in government are handled," the group said.

But it was critical of the new president on the issues of "signing statements" and use of the "state secrets privilege" to keep cases out of court on national security grounds.

It said, "Many groups considered Obama's signing statement on the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill to be an affront to whistleblower protections. These groups have interpreted Obama's signing statement as impeding the ability of government employees to communicate with Congress.

Further, in repeated court cases, Obama administration officials have insisted on maintaining the Bush administration's broad interpretation of executive branch power on the issue of state secrets. There has been no public discussion of reviewing these policies for possible revision."

OMB Watch noted that "Despite a fierce internal debate, the Obama administration has released four Bush-era 'torture memos' from the Department of Justice.

But, it added, "It remains to be seen if the administration will adopt a systematic approach to releasing other important documents that have been withheld from the public."

The group noted that, in his first 100 days in office, President Obama "has made transparency a high priority and has started significant efforts in what will be a long process of getting government to be more open."

But, it added, "Concerns and complaints have been raised by right-to-know advocates about various activities of the administration, including the usability of the White House website, transparency of legislation before the president signs it, and more. Additionally, it is difficult to accomplish much substantive change in just 100 days; much of the real test for this administration's commitment to transparency lies ahead. However, when measured against the yardstick of the five recommendations described above, it is impossible to view the administration's accomplishments as anything other than a success."

Overall, the group concluded, Obama "has set a positive tone for the administration with his calls for increased transparency and renewed scientific integrity throughout government, his appointments of well qualified people to serve in regulatory agencies, his reversal of harmful regulatory practices and rushed deregulatory actions, and his initiation of an open process to reform the executive order that governs the rulemaking process. For these actions, the president deserves high marks."




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William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
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