Transparency Shmansparency

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In an effort to extract some transparency from the Obama administration regarding the waivers for lobbyists handed out by OMB and appointee financial disclosures, Jake Tapper runs into the Iron Curtain of the Press Secretary’s office:

(Update: Now with video!):

TAPPER:  Robert, two questions.  One’s a housekeeping one.  In the name of the transparency that you and the president herald so much, is there any way we could get the copies of the waivers that the OMB issues to allow certain cabinet posts or deputy posts…

GIBBS:  I’ll check.

TAPPER:  … free of the ethics constraints that you put up? And, also, the disclosure forms that your nominees put out that go to the Office of Government Ethics, that somehow they’re not able to e- mail or, you know, put on the Web, is there any way we can get copies of those?

GIBBS:  Yes, I will check.  I don’t — I don’t know how those forms are distributed.

TAPPER:  Just based on listening to the president’s rhetoric, I’m sure it’s something he’d want to do.

GIBBS:  Well…

TAPPER: The other question is…

GIBBS:  Knowing of your crystal clarity on his opinion, I’ll certainly check.

TAPPER:  He doesn’t believe in transparency?

GIBBS:  Did you have another more pertinent question?

TAPPER:  I think that’s pretty — I think it’s fairly pertinent, your cabinet nominees and whether or not they pay their taxes and whether or not they have speaking fees with all sorts of industries they’re suppose to regulate.  I think that’s fairly pertinent.  You don’t?

GIBBS:  Obviously I do.  And obviously the — the president does.

Just in an effort of positive public relations, one would think that these documents would be made readily available through the Internet (I’m sure some of the people at the White House remember that thing). The failure to post financial disclosures online is just inexcusable, and also just bad politics, and the release of the OMB waivers is absolutely necessary to determine what issues lobbyists going into the administration will recuse themselves from. The administration has opened themselves up to these kinds of critiques and, despite the difficulty of starting a new administration, they need to hurry up get these types of issues sorted out.

Also, transparency isn’t just a bunch of web sites and data and releasing information online (although that’s all great, too), it’s also allowing conversations to be held with candor. Everyone knows the press wants to be adversarial, but the Press Secretary’s office should no longer continue with the tradition of stonewalling and evasion. Gibbs should be allowed to speak more freely and openly, and thus be more transparent.

(Hat tip to Michael Stern for pointing this out on the Open House Project list.)

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  • Joshua Gay

    If http://www.j-archive.com can keep track of each and every answer posed and question answered on Jeopardy, I’m sure we can have (or already do have?) something similar for the presidential press conferences.

    It would be good to have a public spread sheet or data repository. The first column would be the questions asked, the next column would be the answers given. Other columns could provide things like accuracy of the question, accuracy of the answers, whether there was a promise made to follow-up with an answer, and some historical footprint as well.

    Maybe this already exists? If not, I imagine such a web page/data-repository could be integrated into many good web sites.

    Joshua Gay
    Cambridge, MA

  • As I said, the press likes to be adversarial. Some more so than others. Some, really more so than others.

  • I definitely agree with pushing the administration to live up to its promise of transparency, but just from this transcript, Tapper’s tone seems pretty obnoxious. I wouldn’t hold this up as an example of failed transparency.