The new Whitehouse.gov went live shortly after Barack Obama became president yesterday. It has much of the look and feel of his transition Web site, Change.gov.
Among the featured items on the homepage today (they will change regularly, of course) is the site itself and the new administration's commitment to transparency. However, the actual terms of that commitment come up pretty anemic.
In a post on the White House blog, Director of New Media Macon Phillips says:
President Obama has committed to making his administration the most open and transparent in history, and WhiteHouse.gov will play a major role in delivering on that promise. The President's executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review, and that’s just the beginning of our efforts to provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government. You can also learn about some of the senior leadership in the new administration and about the President’s policy priorities.
Executive orders and proclamations? Information about senior leadership and the president's priorities? That's not breaking any new ground on transparency.
The transition's "Seat at the Table" program required "any documents from official meetings with outside organizations [to] be posted on our website for people to review and comment on."
The decision to port this practice over to the White House has either not been made, or has been decided against. Given that meetings are already happening, it will be a tough policy to implement if it is not implemented right away.
There is an "Office of Public Liaison" (and intergovernmental affairs) on the Whitehouse.gov site, but it's nothing more than an email submission form at this point. "More ways for you to interact" are promised.
Words aren't deeds, and it's already too late to demonstrate a day-one commitment to transparency. Let's hope the first steps of the new administration are not steps away from the important transparency precedents set by the transition.
Update: As this post was being written and edited, news stories were coming out about new executive orders dealing with ethics and transparency. Though I haven’t been able to find them yet – hint hint, Whitehouse.gov – the change to the interpretation of FOIA sounds like a welcome, though modest, step in the right direction.