In the middle of showdowns with the press and open government groups, the White House on Friday issued a report praising the administration's efforts to promote more transparency.
President Barack Obama is introduced by senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, right, as he arrives to speak about the new health care law during a White House Youth Summit, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
The White House released its second U.S. Open Government National Action Plan, a 14-page report with 23 new and expanded open government proposals, inclduing changes to the White House online petition, modernizing compliance to the Freedom of Information Act and pushing an international agreement to promote transparency abroad.
However critics, such as Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, have cited that the administration has been resistant to producing information to the public.
“This administration has been less transparent than the Bush administration and they are getting more secretive as time goes on,” Fitton, the chief of the conservative government watchdog group, told TheBlaze. “There are entire categories of information walled off from the public that George W. Bush would never dream of blocking because he would have never gotten away with it.”
A report completed by former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie for the non-partisan Committee to Protect Journalists in October said the Obama administration is the most secretive since the Nixon administration, and has chilled journalists coverage by retaliation against government leakers.
Still the White House is “setting a series of ambitious goals to create a more open government. The United States has continued to implement and improve upon the open-government commitments set forth in the first plan, along with many more efforts underway across government, including implementing individual Federal agency Open Government Plans,” said a White House blog post by Nick Sinai, the U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer, and Gayle Smith, White House senior director for development and democracy.
The report said the “We the People” petition website will be improved to make it easier to collect and submit signatures, the White House report states.
The U.S. is also a part of the Global Initiatives on Fiscal Transparency (GIFT), which is an international network of governments and non-government organizations that aims at increasing financial transparency for taxpayers and shareholders. The administration also plans to improve the Data.gov website to make government documents more available to the public.
The report calls for “modernization” of FOIA by “launching a consolidated online FOIA service to improve customers’ experience, creating and making training resources available to FOIA professionals and other federal employees, and developing common FOIA standards for agencies across government.”
But the administration has not complied to FOIA requests from Judicial Watch, pushing the organization to sue the government more than 120 times during the Obama administration, more than twice as many lawsuits as it filed during the Bush and Clinton years, Fitton told TheBlaze. The shielded information has included things such as information on the Benghazi terrorist attack, and the government assistance to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
“They have politicized FOIA as they have everything else,” Fitton said.
Fitton compared this to Obama's promises on policy.
“The idea that transparency would be the cornerstone of his presidency is the same as saying if you like your health insurance you can keep it,” Fitton said. “A lying president necessarily isn't a transparent president.”
The Obama Justice Department has been criticized since May for labeling Fox News reporter James Rosen a “co-conspirator” in a leak investigation and for obtaining phone records from Associated Press journalists.
More recently, the White House Correspondents Association protested the White House blocking news photographers from the type of events that previous administrations have allowed the photojournalists to cover.
The White House has also been criticized for scheduling meetings with lobbyists off White House grounds to avoid having the lobbyists' names on the visitor logs.
Additionally, former Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson used an e-mail under a different name, for what some have said charged was to avoid releasing communications through FOIA.
Nevertheless, the White House asserts that the public's right to know what there government is doing is a priority.
“Since his first full day in office, President Obama has prioritized making government more open and accountable and has taken substantial steps to increase citizen participation, collaboration, and transparency in government,” said Sinai and Smith on the White House blog.