I have written here once or twice before—well, 26 times, but who’s counting?—about “Sunlight Before Signing“—President Obama’s campaign promise to post bills he receives from Congress online for five days before signing them.
It was his first broken campaign promise, but a presidential term lasts four years, and a pledge like this is redeemable. So I have been delighted to see moves over the past few weeks to implement President Obama’s simple, but important transparency promise.
First, Whitehouse.gov began posting all legislation that comes to the president’s desk from Congress. An early decision to exclude “insignificant” legislation such as bills to rename post offices needlessly drove down the White House’s Sunlight Before Signing average.
Why would the public want to know about such things? Perhaps because the numerous post office renamings passed this year stand in contrast to the budget resolutions not passed this year. Foremost, all bills should be included in Sunlight Before Signing because that was the president’s promise.
More importantly, though, the White House’s web site recently added a section covering something fairly central to the president’s role: legislation! In Whitehouse.gov’s “Briefing Room,” there is now a legislation section, in which you can find lists of pending legislation (the stuff getting its five days of public review), signed legislation, and vetoed legislation.
(The signed legislation section is a bit of a jumble. It’s in no apparent order, it does not include public law numbers, it has different “signed” dates for some bills than the Thomas system has, and it even lists a few bills that have not been signed into law.)
Crucially, each of these pages has RSS feeds that make it easy for the public to stay informed about what bills have reached the president’s desk to get their five-day review. Voters and bloggers can easily get a quick sense of what Congress and the president are doing. Think of the social studies teacher who might use the bills Congress sends to the president in any given week for a class assignment.
Each time a bill reaches the president, it will pop up in RSS feeds nationwide. A habit of civic awareness can take root thanks to these RSS feeds, and the administration deserves credit for implementing them, even if it has done so tardily.
Thanks to these changes, the Obama administration’s Sunlight Before Signing average is on the rise. When we last reviewed things, just under 10% of bills had received the Sunlight Before Signing treatment, even though many were held for five days at the White House as a matter of course.
In 2009, the administration was 6 for 123 on Sunlight Before Signing, a poor .049 batting average. In 2010 so far, 37 of the 69 bills due for Sunlight Before Signing—there was one emergency bill—got the SBS treatment. That’s a 53.6% rate. And in the month of June, 16 of 19—84% of bills—got Sunlight Before Signing.
|Number of Bills||Bills Held 5 Days||Bills Posted Five Days||Emergency Bills|
Overall at this point, the Obama administration has complied with the president’s Sunlight Before Signing promise 22.5% of the time. The first year is pulling the numbers down, and things are sure to get better going forward.
We’ll keep reporting on this campaign promise. In the third and fourth year of the term, we expect President Obama to be pretty near 100%. It’s terrific that the population can develop the habit over the next few years of looking at all the bills that get to the president’s desk. We’ll have a more engaged, self-governing citizenry as a result.
Now here’s the table of all bills President Obama has signed into law and their Sunlight Before Signing status.
(Parentheses indicate a separate Whitehouse.gov page with a link to Thomas legislative database)
* Page now gone, but it was either directly observed, evidence of it appears in Whitehouse.gov search, or White House says it existed.
[Brackets indicate a link from Whitehouse.gov to Thomas legislative database]
† Bill was posted for five days after final passage, though not formal presentment. Counted as “Yes.”
‡ Link to final version of bill on impossible-to-find page.
E! Emergency legislation not subject to five-day posting