Obama on Transparency for Government


While Sunlight is mostly focused on Congressional transparency we can't help but notice that there is a presidential campaign going on. Sen. Barack Obama announced his positions last week for ethics and transparency reform.

Obama's reform agenda uses the Web in a significant fashion. There are lots of things I like in his proposal including the core concept of "Google for Government (information)," which in my mind means creating searchable, online databases as a requirement for government agencies' work. (Let's hope that as president Obama would also champion legislative changes that will allow for citizens to learn more about Congress' activities — expanding what is currently reported and making it all available online in searchable databases.) Given the fact that Obama is a leader on government transparency issues in the Senate now, his willingness to talk about these issues demonstrates his commitment to them and his understanding that the public strongly favors more transparency by the government.

I can't help but be a little disappointed in Obama's proposals, however. Some of the ideas could be a little more robust. What's the point of putting bills online on the White House website after they've gone through Congress? It's great for a president to want input from citizens before he signs them but why not get that at a time when it really makes a difference, say, like before bills are voted on? (For this he would need to urge the Senate and the House to enact legislation that would require posting legislation for 72 hours in advance of voting, something he could do right now. (Rep. Brian Baird just introduced a House Resolution containing such a requirement.) And I think the same thing about exposing earmarks after they've been put into the bills. This should be done while it's possible to evaluate them and decide if a specific earmark is worth the money. Obama can fight to make this operational right now as Senator. His new proposal calls for "21st Century Fireside Chats" too. This should be more full-bodied, including blogging, wikis, and interactive communication with citizens. Let's bring those Cabinet secretaries — and the entire government into 21st century style communications with the public.