President Obama and Sunshine Week: the public’s right to know

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Courtesy of wkms.org

Despite the recent cloudy days in Dallas, Sunshine Week shined across the nation. Promoting an open government, Sunshine Week celebrates the right to know and access public information. The organization aims to educate the public on the importance of an open government and the risk of unnecessary secrecy.

The Obama Administration decided to celebrate this week in transparency by exempting the executive office from record requests. Oh, the irony. Obama’s administration aims to be the most transparent one in history, expressing their importance goal on White House official website, “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

The Freedom of Information Act enables the public to view full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents by the U.S. government.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest identified the change as a cleanup of outdated regulations. He referenced the U.S. Court of Appeals’ decision that the FOIA fails to classify the Office of Administration as an agency under its statute.

Earnest said, “It has no impact at all on the policy that we have maintained from the beginning to comply with the Freedom of Information Act when it’s appropriate.”

Technically the White House lies in the right, but the entire affair gives off an unwavering sense of bad faith. Obama’s refusal to release documents goes back on his promise in 2008, “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” Merriam-Webster defines touchstone as something that is used to make judgments about other things; one may conclude that President Obama’s lack of transparency speaks for his lack of faithful presidency.

But the administration’s decision arrived at the worse time, in the middle of Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week is week where new organizations and Watchdog groups highlight issues of government transparency. Obama’s actions were almost like a slap in the face.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington criticized the Obama administration for its decision, saying it reversed a decades-long practice of opening office files to the public. Generally, those who seek information get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas.

But I’m confident that if anybody else sat behind the President’s desk, they’d do the same as President Obama now.

Despite the endless criticisms, the White House knows what it’s doing. And to those who beg to differ, remember that you either voted for him, voted for the other candidate, in which case your vote basically meant nothing, or you failed to vote at all, in which case you can’t complain.

No presidency is perfect. Transparency represents an important issue, but running the government is a complex process; nuances exist throughout every level of the government. People make mistakes and often the nation blames those mistakes on the face of the United States.

President Obama and those who assist him in running the White House represent possibly the smartest and creative characters in the nation. If they believe that releasing certain documents would hurt either the administration’s reputation or the United States’, then they have every right and the duty to guard that information.

Live by the age-old, cliché adage: be the change you wish to see. So if you want a more transparent government, run for office and make it your mission to accomplish that.

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