Out of Control Policy Blog

Obama's Transparency Gets an "A" Grade?

The White House is touting a new report from Democracy21, in conjunction with Common Cause, League of Women Voters, and U.S. PIRG, that graded the administration's first year in reforming lobbying, ethics, and transparency rules. Among the grades were and "A" for: the President's open government initiatives that were called "unprecedented" and said to "go well beyond any efforts undertaken by previous administrations."

Let's stop for a moment here. Few would argue that an "A" grade should be reserved for a success that is extraordinary. In fact, if I remember my freshman English professor correctly, a "C" grade is for those that do passing work, at least enough to show they learned and had the minimum of success. Another writing professor of mine reserved the grade "A" for work that, by his measure, would be publishable in The New York Times. As such, this report is giving Obama pretty high marks for his transparency.

But they must have been measuring something I don't know about, because what I've seen of the administration has been far from extraordinary.

Unprecedented? Sure, if you consider spending $18 million on a website that his fraught with errors and lacking in real information that people want and can easily access unprecedented waste. Especially considered to the far more effective website Recovery.org, built by the private sector, launched months before anything substantive landed on the government page, and is unofficially reported to have cost well under $1 million.

Well beyond other administrations? I guess you could say that. Especially since no other administration has ever used "job creation" data from 440 fake districts to prove the stimulus is working. Other administrations have overlooked simple research methods like fact-checking data reported by unknown sources before building policy on it (the war in Iraq comes to mind). But apparently, the Democracy21 paper authors think Obama has gone above and beyond any other administrations in this regard.

Now, obviously it is a positive step that the president is at least paying lip service to the idea of more open government. Obama did sign the Reason Presidential Oath of Transparency during the election. And without the Recover.gov website, we wouldn't have the source material to call the administration out on their disingenuous claim of job creation/savings. But overall, Obama's follow through, as highlighted by the failures of the centerpiece website Recovery.gov, should earn him a barely passing "C" when it comes to really promoting open government in a way that is actually holding his administration accountable.

Read the whole report here.
(HT: @whitehouse)

Anthony Randazzo is Director of Economic Research


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