Today the White House released its log of White House visitors for the period of September 16-30, 2009. (Here’s today’s announcement and the data.) More than 2,000 records specifically requested from the time period prior to September 16 have been released as well. Records for October 2009 — the first full month to which the visitor log publication policy applies — will be released in 30 days.
It’s worth noting that the White House is working to release visitor information for the Vice President’s Residence in an identical format to the White House Complex; when the visitor record system at the residence is updated, the White House “visitor information for the White House Complex and the Residence will be released in a common format.” Hooray for common standards.
The White House deserves significant praise for releasing this information, although, as we noted earlier, getting to this point was a bit bumpy.
White House Ethics Counsel Norm Eisen raises the issue that it’s difficult to disambiguate visitors who share the same name. This is a common problem with this kind of data, often making it difficult to compare datasets. (Or, as they note, figure out whether the William Ayers visiting the White House is the former weatherman, or someone with a less stormy past.) How can this problem be mitigated? Perhaps having people indicate their state of residence, or age, or if they are a registered lobbyist under the LDA.
The White House is also likely withholding some records for reasons of national security, political sensitivity, privacy, or other concerns, as they said they would in their policy statement. It would be helpful to know how many people fall under that category. While I’m at it, it would also be nice to have all the records prior to September 16th released.
Still, this is a tremendous change in policy from where we were a year ago. And it is a welcome companion to their announcement earlier this week regarding changing (de)classification procedures.