Why Obama’s Transparency Promise Is So Hard to Keep


By now, “Barack Obama Breaks Campaign Promise” is one of the least surprising headlines one expects to see.  But for those just tuning in to the brave new world of Hope & Change, today we’ve got yet another pledge that was apparently not to be.

The other night, Sean Hannity highlighted the president’s following promise, made on his first day in office…

OBAMA: The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is to make it transparent, so the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they’re being made, and whether their interests are being well served. The directives I am giving my administration today on how to interpret the Freedom of Information Act will do just that.

…and compared it with George Washington University’s recent findings, highlighted in this Washington Post report:

But less than a third of the 90 federal agencies that process requests for information have significantly changed their practices since that initial order, the report said. The departments of Agriculture and Justice, the Office of Management and Budget and the Small Business Administration earned especially high marks for completely or partly fulfilling more requests and denying fewer of them during fiscal 2009. The departments of State, Transportation and Treasury, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have fulfilled fewer requests and denied more of them in the same time period.

President Obama sent a clear message for freedom of information, and we found that agencies are talking the talk, just not yet walking the walk,” said Thomas S. Blanton, who directs the security archive.

Of course, the White House assures us that the Justice Department’s own review is coming soon, and their numbers are better.  I’d be surprised if they weren’t.  On the other hand, in highlighting several of Obama’s most embarrassing transparency failures, Mary Katharine Ham pointed out that he has had some successes, “but he fails so spectacularly and publicly that he eclipses his successes.”

Some of this is a natural byproduct of Obama’s oft-maligned inexperience: it’s easy to set all sorts of lofty goals on the campaign trail, but taking office brings the realization that the task of governing is much more difficult.

Another factor is the Left’s endless caterwauling about the secretive police state the Bush Administration was supposedly making the country into.  “Bush is a liar, and Cheney schemes with Halliburton execs behind closed doors, but we’ll be different!  Everything will be open, and you’ll be able to trust your government again!”  The Democrats might have been able to spare themselves this particular headache simply by not making stuff up.

Lastly, take another look at the Post excerpt above.  “90 federal agencies”?  Ninety?  I don’t know about you, but I suspect that not all of them are absolutely essential to “establish[ing] Justice, insur[ing] domestic Tranquility, provid[ing] for the common defence, promot[ing] the general Welfare, and secure[ing] the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”  The federal government is so big, so bloated, and so convoluted that major reform on any front is much easier said than done.

Broken campaign promises are small potatoes as far as political scandals go, but it’s amusing to see the Obama Administration even a little stymied by the very conception of government they so dearly love.  If only big government wasn’t stymieing the rest of us, too.

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Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College.  He also blogs at the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.