A Flagging Obama Transparency Effort

President Obama made some very firm commitments about transparency as a campaigner. Among other things, he promised to post bills online for five days before he signs them. This promise has been fulfilled just once - and in that case, only arguably.

The Obama campaign Web site promised “Sunlight Before Signing:

Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them. As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.”

To a roar of approval, President Obama pledged on the campaign trail: “[W]hen there is a bill that ends up on my desk as a president, you the public will have five days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it, so that you know what your government’s doing.”

Here’s a look at the White House’s uneven efforts to fulfill that promise:

Of the eleven bills President Obama has signed, only six have been posted on Whitehouse.gov. None have been posted for a full five days after presentment from Congress.

One bill, the DTV Delay Act, was posted after it was cleared for presentment by Congress February 4th, with the President signing it February 11th. This arguably satisfies the five-day promise, though presentment - a constitutional step in the legislative process - would be a better time to start the five-day clock. (Congress presented it February 9th.)

Several times the White House has posted a bill while it remains in Congress, attempting to satisfy the five-day rule. But this doesn’t give the public an opportunity to review the final legislation - especially any last minute amendments. Versions of the children’s health insurance legislation, the omnibus spending bill, and the omnibus public land management bill were linked to from Whitehouse.gov while making their ways through Congress, but not posted in final form.

(The page linking to the omnibus spending bill was not highlighted in the White House blog or anywhere else on Whitehouse.gov I could find. The only evidence I found of when it was posted comes from Web commentary.)

Is five days too much to ask? The President did allow for an emergency exception, and it would not be appropriate to hold off signing a bill if life and health were immediately threatened.

The President signed a couple of bills with deadlines pressing. These were the continuing resolution, the omnibus spending bill, and the extensions of immigration and small business programs. Congress produced the crush, though, with its timing in passing the bills; the deadlines were not a product of extrinsic forces or emergencies. (A firmly enforced five-day rule would cause Congress to pass bills five days earlier when programs were expiring - after much tribulation about who is responsible when a program lapses for failure to timely reauthorize it, of course.)

Despite the economic conditions, the Recovery Act was not treated as emergency legislation by Congress or the President. Congress waited three days after its Friday passage to present it to the President, and he enjoyed a weekend visit to Chicago before signing the bill four days after it passed (one day after presentment) in Denver.

The President has signed most bills within a day or two of their presentment from Congress, violating his campaign promise. He has signed two bills more than five days after presentment, but - ironically, because it preserves the broken promise - not posted them on Whitehouse.gov.

 

Public Law Date Presented Date Signed Posted (Linked) for Comment? Five Days?
P.L. 111-2, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 1/28/2009 1/29/2009 1/29/2009 No
P.L. 111-3, The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 2/4/2009 2/4/2009 2/1/2009 No
P.L. 111-4, The DTV Delay Act 2/9/2009 2/11/2009 2/5/2009 Yes and No
P.L. 111-5, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 2/16/2009 2/17/2009 2/13/2009 No
P.L. 111-6, Making further continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2009, and for other purposes 3/6/2009 3/6/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-7, A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2105 East Cook Street in Springfield, Illinois, as the “Colonel John H. Wilson, Jr. Post Office Building” 2/26/09 3/9/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-8, The Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 3/11/2009 3/11/2009 3/6/2009 No
P.L. 111-9, To extend certain immigration programs 3/18/2009 3/20/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-10, To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 3/19/2009 3/20/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-11, The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 No
P.L. 111-12, The Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2009 3/24/2009 3/30/2009 No n/a