President Barack Obama has wasted no time in taking a strong stand in favor of openness and transparency in the federal government.
“All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA and to usher in a new era of open government,” President Obama wrote in an official memorandum issued Wednesday.
The memo, and another calling for greater transparency in government, represents a significant shift away from the previous administration’s emphasis upon secrecy and a return to viewing access to government information as a presumptive legal right. The Board of Directors of Investigative Reporters and Editors commends the Obama Administration's stand and hopes that it truly signals a new era of openness.
By directing federal agencies to start with a presumption that information should be made public, President Obama’s memorandums reverse the policy adopted by former Bush Administration Attorney General John Ashcroft that encouraged the Executive Branch to consider whether there was a supposed government advantage in withholding information and, if so, to deny access to requesters.
And by announcing this crucial change in policy on his first day in office, President Obama signals a return to the fundamental values underlying the Freedom of Information law and a recognition that the people have a right to know what their government is doing.
The IRE board encourages journalists to commence new public record initiatives and help reestablish government accountability through timely release of newsworthy information under FOIA. The Obama Administration has helped restore for journalists, and the public at large, enhanced opportunities for ensuring compliance with existing law. Together with implementation of important new provisions of the Open Government Act of 2007, which took effect in December 2008, the statements of the new Administration toward FOI are a welcome change for everyone concerned about the urgent need for increased access to public records.
The president has given all citizens a powerful tool to rely on when seeking government records and data, and those words should remind government officials to comply with the law.
-- IRE Board of Directors