May 20, 2009
This week's Appeals Court decision on White House e-mails is a reminder that there is still a vast gulf between the glittering promises of open government President Obama made his first day in office and performance where it counts.
"The appeals court in Washington ruled that the White House Office of Administration is not an agency subject to the Freedom of Information Act," the Associated Press' Nedra Pickler wrote, "allowing the White House to keep secret documents about an e-mail system that has been plagued with problems."
It was just one of many missed opportunities for the administration to make good on its declarations that it would foster government transparency.
Several watchdog groups evaluated the Obama administration's performance in the First Amendment and openness arena after its first 100 days, and gave it decidedly mixed grades.
The coalition known as the "21st Century Right-To-Know Agenda" found that many federal agencies were still dragging their feet in carrying out Obama's openness and FOIA decrees. The groups found that the administration had not made clear progress in cutting through the burgeoning secrecy stamps known as "Controlled Unclassified Information" (CUI). Many of these Bush-era secrecy stamps lack any foundation in statute and they especially impact the subjects environmental reporters cover.