President Barack Obama yesterday reversed a Bush administration policy making it easier for government agencies to deny requests for records under FOIA, and repealed Bush's executive order allowing former presidents or their heirs to claim executive privilege in order to keep records secret, the New York Times reports. "For a long time now there's been too much secrecy in this city," Obama said during a swearing-in ceremony for senior officials. “Transparency and rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency." Secrecy News calls it a "breathtaking series of statements and executive actions" that "gained immense force from the fact that it was presented on the President’s first full day in office." To read the text of the memos Obama issued to effectuate the changes, click here. MORE: Reaction from the Sunshine in Government Initiative and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy.
Today the Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI) is urging the administration of President-elect Barack Obama to take four immediate, concrete steps to strengthen open government. The coalition of media organizations that includes AAN is pressing the administration to restore the presumption of disclosure across the executive branch; create an independent, online FOIA ombudsman; ban agencies from proposing or endorsing unnecessary statutory exemptions from disclosure; and speak on the record in all policy statements and current news about public matters. "These actions would show President-elect Obama intends to fulfill his pledge to restore open government in Washington," SGI coordinator Rick Blum says in a release.
The first minute of the new year will see the instant declassification of a mountain of previously secret government documents in what is set to become an annual event under a "25-year law" passed by the Clinton Administration but that is only now coming into effect, reports the New York Times. The somewhat surprising decision by the Bush administration to uphold the law -- after two three-year delays -- which places a quarter-century limit on the classified status of most government documents, is being lauded by open-government advocates and historians alike. "Americans need to know this history, and the history is in those documents," Anna K. Nelson, a historian at American University, tells the Times.
In an impassioned speech at the Georgetown University Law Center, incoming Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont marked the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Freedom of Information Act and promised to improve transparency of government during the 110th Congress. The senator cited Texas Republican colleague John Cornyn as a strong ally in the fight to change the climate created by the Bush Administration, which has shown a "dangerous disdain for the free press and the public." Leahy says one of his priorities for the committee will be "to continue efforts to strengthen and improve our open government laws."