Where’s the sunshine?

Did you know it’s National Sunshine Week? The National Security Archive reminded us that it is, in noting the 2011 Knight Open Government Survey. That report reminds the public that the Obama administration, which promised an oceanic change on transparency and openness in government, has been slow to get there — to put it mildly.

The president wasted no time in admonishing all federal government departments and agencies — one minute into his administration — that he demanded new policies to open government operations to public scrutiny. But at the halfway point in his administration, his operatives have not walked the walk, even if their leader has talked the talk.

The Knight report notes that 49 out of 90 agencies have made concrete changes in their FOIA policies. And FOIA is the last resort for transparency — it provides a path to access after documents are classified, often unnecessarily and wrongly. Review and reform of laws of classification and declassification remain in need of major reform, which would minimize the need for FOIA later on.

And the government persists in following the state-secrets policy of prior administrations, often resulting in shocking injustices, as several books and many experts have pointed out. The president needs to ask his appointees in the Cabinet why they have ignored his day-one orders.


Ronald Goldfarb is a Washington attorney and author. His most recent book is In Confidence — When to Protect Secrecy and When to Require Disclosure, Yale University Press, 2009.

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