Groups, Media Pitch Open-Government Proposals To New Administration

November 20, 2008

During the campaign, President-elect Barack Obama spoke of the need to restore trust in government by improving accountability and transparency. Now that the election is over, a number of media groups are offering suggestions on how specifically to do that.

A broad coalition of open-government groups has put forth a "21st Century Right-to-Know Agenda" meant for both the President and Congress. Groups backing it include both news media groups and environmental groups. The 21st Century RTK Agenda came from a consultative process organized by the watchdog group OMB Watch. It was finalized November 12, 2008. Key collaborating groups were OpenTheGovernment.org, the National Security Archive, and the Center for Democracy and Technology. Over 280 groups and individuals signed on.

Also, the Sunshine in Government Initiative (SGI), a coalition of nine top news media organizations, sent its own openness recommendations to Obama November 10, 2008.

SGI includes the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Associated Press, Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, National Association of Broadcasters, National Newspaper Association, Newspaper Association of America, Radio-Television News Directors Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Society of Professional Journalists.

The SGI called on Obama to take four key actions immediately:

"1. Restore the presumption of disclosure across the executive branch.
2. Create an independent, online ombudsman to help citizens access their government.
3. Ban agencies from proposing or endorsing unnecessary statutory exemptions from disclosure. Any new statutory exemptions proposed or supported by the administration should be limited in scope and life and include oversight.
4. Speak on the record, and urge his senior deputies and aides to do the same, in all statements about policy and current news about public matters."

The 21st Century RTK Recommendations included five immediate steps:

"1. The president should clearly state in his inaugural address that he will oversee the 'most open, honest, and accountable government ever' to improve trust in our government.
2. The president should immediately instruct agencies to operate in a more open style, making information available to the public in a timely manner and in searchable formats except where prohibited by law.
3. Invite the public to identify top documents and databases to make publicly available.
4. The president should rescind Executive Order 13233 to remove impediments to access to historical presidential records.
5. Instruct the Attorney General to advise agencies how to increase the presumption of openness under the Freedom of Information Act consistent with the president's executive order."