Journalism in the Public Interest


Obama and Transparency: Walking the Talk

Change.govPresident-elect Barack Obama’s transition team seems to be following through with its promise of transparency by posting documents from its meetings with industry and advocacy groups.

The documents are on a special section of the transition team Web site,, called Your Seat at the Table.

Already, dozens of documents are posted on the site from groups outlining policy recommendations for the new administration. There are some from industry groups, but a wide variety of interests have also come to the table. Here are a few examples:

  • The nation’s largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association, submitted 80 pages of documents (PDF) outlining its positions for change in the school systems. The NEA also called for the revocation of several executive orders issued by President George W. Bush, including one that allows former presidents to withhold records they consider privileged.
  • The Tribal Law and Policy Institute recommended several policy changes, including increased funding for tribal justice systems and greater emphasis in the U.S. Department of Justice on “Indian Country” issues.
  • The U.S. wireless industry’s submission calls for bolstering broadband networks in the new administration’s plan to improve U.S. infrastructure. Obviously, the industry would benefit from expanded broadband use.

No meeting specifics are posted, such as agendas or meeting video. But the team did post a snippet of video from its meeting with environmental groups to give visitors a sense of what the meetings are like.

The site also allows users to add their comments and documents to the site. Here are comments to the American Civil Liberties Union’s recommendations.

A Dec. 5 memo (PDF) from John Podesta, chairman of the transition team, directed staff to inform groups that information they submit will be posted online. According to the memo, the policy “does not apply to non-public or classified information acquired from the Agency Review Process and internal memorandum.”

Also, only notes from “official meetings,” will be posted, which are defined as a “meeting with outside organizations or representatives of those organizations to which three or more outside participants attend.”

We have asked the transition team whether meetings with government organizations will be posted as well. We’ll update you when we get an answer.

The economic crisis that will dominate Barack Obama’s first 100 days as president, and beyond, will give him a rare chance to enact big portions of his agenda that otherwise might have languished for months or years. The economic stimulus package, chock full of cash advances to the nation, has finally been agreed upon by both the House and the Senate.  The final version will likely be on the desk of President Obama by Friday.  Part of the bill is the cash advances that several states are desperate for, such as California, who is staring down the barrel of a huge shortage.  The bill has been through numerous revisions, such as cuts in the House, and then increases in the Senate.  The final version appears to be completely pared down – but let’s hope it contains all the right cash advances for economic recovery.