Obama busy on first day but also deals with FOIA, transparency, Presidential records

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President Barack Obama got off to a quick start in his first full day in office, mixing ceremonial duties with his first official forays into domestic and foreign policy..

Perhaps most significantly, Obama underscored that a new administration had taken over the capital with a series of executive orders aimed at creating the open government he promised on the campaign trail.

Obama said the moves were aimed at helping to “restore that faith in government without which we cannot deliver the changes we were sent here to make,” drawing a barely veiled contrast between himself and a predecessor who was accused by critics of excessive secrecy and legal abuses...

The new president also said Freedom of Information act requests would be more routinely approved by his administration.

“For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city,” Obama said. “The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over.”

Hinting more directly at former Vice President Cheney, who sought to keep information about White House meetings concealed, Obama added: “The mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean that you should always use it.”

In a statement sent out following Obama’s announcement, the White House said that senior aides would be tasked with producing an “Open Government Directive” within 120 days directing specific actions to implement the principles in the memorandum. The memorandum on FOIA gives the Attorney General the same time frame to issue new guidelines on government transparency.

Before deciding to bar information from public view, Obama said he would consult with his Attorney General and White House counsel – a move aimed at curbing the Bush administration’s penchant for making information classified. President George W. Bush argued that as president, he had the right to classify – or declassify – information as he saw fit.

Further, and in a move that will greatly please historians and students of the presidency, Obama revoked Bush’s order limiting access to White House documents.

Bush angered scholars and open-government advocates with an executive order in 2001 giving ex-presidents and presidents the authority to block release of White House records.

Related Links

  • Details, text of Obama openness initiatives--at National Security Archive

  • President's full remarks on openness, ethics in White House

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