In March, Sunlight joined C-SPAN to make sense of the Trump administration’s record on open government during Sunshine Week. C-SPAN asked us for our views on the Trump administration’s approach to date on open government. We shared the following list of examples that offer insight, which we have kept adding to in the weeks and months since.
- How candidates conduct campaigns and transitions carries into office. After making himself available to the press through July, Trump set a bar as the least transparent modern presidential candidate in modern history. He held no press conference until January, no tax returns, and no proactive disclosures around transition or inauguration.
- Ethics: Lack of disclosure of tax returns and divestment in accordance with decades of tradition sets up the Trump presidency for the ongoing appearance of corruption, with an unknown number of conflicts of interest around the world.
- Secret waivers for administration officials, followed by OMB seeking to block the Office of government ethics from obtaining them.
- No affirmative vision for open government. No public statements on the Freedom of Information Act, open government, open data, transparency, nor this year’s Sunshine Week.
- Keeping the White House visitor logs secret
- Congress voted to remove an anti-corruption rule, which President Trump signed with fanfare, abandoning U.S. leadership on transparency of payments by the extractive industries to government
- Secret gag orders to agencies began the Trump administration.
- Historic attacks on the role of the free press in democracy, with exclusion of American press on trips abroad.
- While WhiteHouse.gov is still missing policy documents, executive orders are now posted in a timely fashion. There is no OIRA website, or dedicated OMB website.
- No US chief technology officer, nor any evidence of plans for one, along with hundreds of key appointees not submitted to the Senate, including the U.S. chief information officer, chief science advisor and dozens of other science and technology policy roles.
- The President claimed to have made the most transparent selection of a nominee to be a Supreme Court Justice, given the campaign disclose of lists of potential nominees. When it came to announce his nominee, however, the White House tried to mislead out the press about another choice.
- Antagonism to government statistics and evidence: President Trump repeatedly said federal jobs numbers were “phony” but now aren’t
- Levied attacks on the independent judiciary after judges struck down his executive order as unconstitutional.
- Moved drones used in counterterrorism back to CIA, away from accountability and transparency at Department of Defense.
- Secrecy around deregulation teams at agencies, with conflicts of interest.
- Bans on recording at White House press briefing. No Wh.gov/live stream of briefing or archive of video on YouTube, as under the Obama administration.
- No disclosure of Trump campaign official contacts with Russian nationals until after journalists reported them, nor address to the American public by the President explaining what Russia did, why he urged Russia to find his political opponents email, or what the United States would do in response
In summary, our questions about what open government would mean in the White House of President Donald J. Trump have been answered, although the press office never returned our inquries this is a secretive administration, allergic to transparency and hostile to the essential role journalism plays in a democracy.
Please send us your stories of more positive or negative examples of transparency and accountability under President Trump.