Saturday, January 24, 2009

Changing the culture

Among the sort of writers that I read, there has been great excitement about some of the new President's comments regarding open government, especially the Executive Order which places limits on former Presidents' ability to restrict their records. The National Coalition for History also links me to these two memos which don't have the force of law, but do make promises that are somewhat binding, politically:

Transparency and Open Government
Freedom of Information Act

The key phrase in the latter is:

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. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

In the transparency memo, this paragraph caught my eye:
Government should be collaborative. Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector. Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.
Government 2.0! The President with a Blackberry! And to highlight the contrast with the previous Administration, I heard Bush say in one of his farewell interviews, "People wanted Barack Obama in their living rooms explaining policy." That's a very Government 1.0* outlook: for Bush, the role of the people after Election Day was to simply listen to what they were told. Obama is claiming a different approach and, while we have yet to see how he'll really govern, he's making some promises that he'll find it hard to renege on. Unlike Bush & Cheney, his power is his popularity and he stands to take more damage if he's seen as a liar.

This is all very welcome to us liberal, open-society types. Obama was always rather vague and cautious on the campaign trail and didn't always challenge the Bush methods as openly as some of us would have liked. Perhaps this is a sign that he's going to be as aggressive about dismantling the secretive, unitary executive

* Not that I really use these phrases; please don't think I go around talking like this all the time.

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