President-elect Obama On Open Government

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By Karla de Steuben


The long presidential campaign is over and we have a president-elect. So what can we expect from an Obama Administration in the area of open government? Apparently, if President-elect Obama’s campaign promises and past legislative actions are any indication, his administration will operate far more openly than the current administration has (although it would not take much). The following are some of the steps President-elect Obama promised on his campaign website he would take if he were elected:

(1) set up a searchable, downloadable, centralized internet data base of lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings

(2) create a public “contracts and influence” database that will disclose how much federal contractors spend on lobbying, what contracts they are awarded; and how well they complete the contracts

(3) post a searchable database on the internet of corporate tax breaks or tax earmarks

(4) before signing any non-emergency bill, post it on the White House website for five days and allow the public to comment

(5) require through legislation that, before any earmark legislation is enacted, the name of its sponsor be disclosed, along with a written explanation for the earmark

(6) amend executive orders to ensure that communications about regulatory policy making between non-governmental personnel and White House staff are disclosed to the public

and, (7) require that executive branch departments and rule-making agencies conduct their business in public, providing access to the public in person or on the internet.

In addition, Senator Obama was a co-sponsor of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, also known as the “Google For Government” law, which is intended to make it easier for the public to determine see how the federal government spends our money. The results of that bill can be found at the USAspending.gov website.

Hopefully, President Obama will follow through on his campaign promises and his administration, once it is in place, will continue to find new ways to improve the ability of the press and the public to gain access to information about the federal government’s actions. And maybe Governor Patrick, who was a big Obama supporter during the campaign, will follow President Obama’s lead here in Massachusetts.

Karla J. de Steuben is an attorney and the creator of the Massachusetts Campaign for Open Government, a project of Common Cause Massachusetts. She serves on the governing board of Common Cause Massachusetts and on the board of the New England First Amendment Coalition.

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