At 12:01 P.M. on January 20, 2009, minutes before Barack Obama was sworn in as President, the first post went up on the Obama White House website. It included a reiteration of a campaign promise Obama repeatedly made: “President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history.”
The President broke that promise often including (my personal favorite) the time he had a meeting on transparency and reporters were not allowed to attend.
The latest slap at this Administration’s lack of transparency comes from a Federal Judge appointed by Bill Clinton, who scolded the Obama administration for its secretive ways and ordered officials to turn over a bland-sounding foreign policy document.
Chastising what she called “the government’s unwarranted expansion of the presidential communications privilege at the expense of the public’s interest in disclosure,” U.S. District Judge Ellen Seal Huvelle ruled the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development is not exempt from FOIA.
Judge Huvelle’s 20-page decision took a shot or two, or three, at the Obama administration’s penchant for secrecy.
“The government appears to adopt the cavalier attitude that the President should be permitted to convey orders throughout the Executive Branch without public oversight, to engage in what is in effect governance by ‘secret law,'” Huvelle wrote.
The Center for Effective Government, formerly known as OMB Watch, filed a FOIA request in 2011 for the document. It is not classified, and has been widely distributed within executive agencies. The Obama administration nonetheless sought to keep the document to itself, claiming an executive communication privilege under FOIA.
This is an important case; as Huvelle noted, it’s the first time an administration sought to apply the executive communication privilege to an executive directive. The administration’s legal posture, Huvelle declared at various time, was “limitless” and “unbounded.”
Perhaps the Administration will take this to heart and maybe even allow the press to attend the next time the President is awarded a transparency trophy.