We loved the flurry of executive orders and memorandums that flew out of President Barack Obama’s White House during the first days of his brand-new administration. Together, they signal how far we’ve come in just a few weeks from Bush-era policies.
Still, one memo Obama sent didn’t get so much attention, even though in many ways, it represents the most significant shift of all.
On January 21, just a day after his inauguration, Obama sent a message to his department heads and agency executives regarding the Freedom of Information Act. In it, he wrote, “The [FOIA], which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.”
In stark contrast to the Bush years—especially notable under then Attorney General John Ashcroft, who became famous for his prideful disregard for the FOIA and the public’s right to hold government and its officials accountable—Obama directed his troops thusly: “In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure … all agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure.”
Yes, folks, it took Obama all of one day in office to signal a complete reversal of the disastrous past eight years of White House-condoned secrets and obfuscations. Though clearly there will still be some in government who’ll fight to keep private what is the public’s right to know, they will no longer be backed up at the top for doing so.
Welcome to your new and open federal government.