Don’t Give Grades Till the End of the Class


Kenneth Vogel over at Politico wrote this morning about a report put together by a coalition of watchdog organizations praising the White House for its openness by giving it an “A” grade.

The watchdog report speaks to the positive efforts undertaken by the administration to make the executive branch more open and transparent, and the highlighting of those efforts is all well and good.

But giving openness grades to the White House right now is like giving a grade for an entire class after the first few weeks. A professor wouldn’t give a grade for the whole semester because a student turned in quality homework in September and laid out a plan for how hard she is going to work over the next few months until the final. Encouragement, guidance, oversight… sure. But not a grade.

If there’s a report to be made, the summary is really more like “‘e’ for effort.”

The facts are these:

1) More effort has quantifiably and substantively been put forward this year to open the White House to the public than has happened in decades …if ever.

2) With notable exceptions such as the White House visitor logs being released or certain lobbying reforms, the efforts we have seen towards executive openness are still almost entirely intentions and plans rather than outcomes that have tangibly resulted in more actual transparency.

The most sweeping plan that has been laid out by the White House – the Open Government Directive – is certainly bold, and if it is carried out to its full extent, would in fact create a sea change in how open the executive is to you and I.  And it’s irrefutable that the White House has made transparency a priority, that it has spoken and written about how to bring transparency to Washington like no previous administration, and that it has laid out plans to bring those bold statements about transparency, collaboration and participation to life.

Overall, 2009 was a good year for transparency mostly because it was in government’s and the public’s consciousness like never before, and we’ve recapped the year pretty exhaustively.

These things are all true, but we’re certainly not to a place of openness in the executive, and in fact, we have a long way to go before we get transparency results that we can hang our hat on.

It is imperative that the onus remains on the White House to fulfill their big promises, and incumbent upon the media and we as citizens to hold them accountable for doing so.

So until the intention of an open, transparent executive translates into the reality we envision, the jury’s out.