OBAMA: RECORDS PRESUMED OPEN
President Obama didn’t waste any time in breaking with the secrecy-first policies of his predecessor.
On his first full day in office, Obama issued a memorandum reversing the policy of the Bush Administration toward Freedom of Information Act requests. The so-called “Ashcroft Memorandum” issued early in the Bush Administration directed federal agencies to deny FOIA requests if there was any defensible argument against disclosing records. Obama’s new policy shifts the presumption in favor of disclosing records. The new President made clear that records might still be withheld for reasons of, say, national security, but the new Memorandum is still an important policy shift.
The Bush Administration’s penchant for secrecy was revealed early on — even before the 9/11 attacks gave it a reason for full-throated defense of secrecy — when former Vice President Cheney refused to reveal the names of oil company executives and others with whom he met to formulate energy policy. Cheney fought a lawsuit designed to pry those records loose all the way to the Supreme Court. Obama’s new policy is a welcome change and indicates the new President won’t routinely use government money to hide information from citizens.
Obama’s Memorandum quotes Justice Louis Brandeis, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Those are words to live by, and they’re welcome from the new President.