A Setback in the Commitment from the White House


From our perspective, with the appointment of White House Counsel Bob Bauer and Steven Croley to the Domestic Policy Counsel, we have just lost an important fight about how the Administration will handle the duties of ‘ethics czar’ post Norm Eisen’s tenure. It certainly looks like the White House’s commitment to a more transparent government is teetering.

From an outsider’s perspective it’s clear. Instead of having single touch point within the Administration we will now be working with one person who already has more than a full-time job, and an academic with no government experience. Sorry, but this doesn’t add up to a strong continuing commitment by the Administration to these issues. This concern is magnified manifold when Eisen’s key successor – Bauer — can hardly be described as having the DNA of a ‘reformer.’  This is the man who invented the rationale for the acceptance of “soft money’’ – unregulated (chiefly corporate) funds that flooded elections to the tune of $1.5 billion between 1992 and 2002, and the man who sided with arch conservatives in their defense of lack of transparency.

Even before this transition, we’ve been shaking our heads.  After making some dramatic statements and issuing important directives, and taking some very positive initial first steps, the White House has already fallen short on delivery of the things we have been promised. We’re now more than 18 months into this Administration, and particularly now, we are wondering what is going on.

We’ve noticed that the data isn’t piling up over at Data.gov. Still only 1 percent of the files are raw data, all the rest are good only if you want to build maps. We’ve noticed that the compromise the White House crafted (or agreed to) on the failed DISCLOSE Act did nothing to either improve it or pass it. We’ve noticed that the White House has done nothing to help move fundamental lobby reform in Congress, or even ask the Congress to make it a priority to pass earmark transparency laws, something the President even called for in his State of the Union Address. We’ve noticed that President’s campaign promise to establish an Ethics.gov appears to be dead. And more.

Sunlight is very concerned about this turn of events. We will be more than happy to be shown that we’re wrong.

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  • Join the club of the disappointed. I was looking for Obama to follow up on his firm statements about Israeli settlements. It sure looks like empty talk to date…

  • Rhesa J

    Seems like another indication of the Administration’s tendency to rely on institutional views vs. bottom-up community organizations in plotting its course to change.

    This decision is similar in theme – approach to a number of moves by the Administration in executing its theory of change. From Ledbetter – the right to sue vs. transparency in salary; to Social Innovation – grants to large well funded organizations vs. scaling small innovators. Perhaps this reflects a belief\tactic by the Administration that institutions are inherently pragmatic while advocates and change agents focus only on “ideology.”

    I say perhaps, but I hope not.

    Institutional excellence, in absence of passionate principled strategy, is only excellent at preserving the institution’s leading position, i.e., preserving the status-quo. It is becoming common to voice that real change requires an appetite and courage to support disruptive ideas. Ideally, the Administration will listen-up and get hungry and brave enough to spice up what has been a pretty bland recipe for change.