Report: Obama secretive despite vow
By Anita Kumar, McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has relied on state secrets and secret laws to make national security decisions with little congressional or public oversight much as his predecessor did, according to a report being released Sunday by a liberal government watchdog group.
The Center for Effective Government's study on transparency finds that Obama has issued important open government policy reforms in his first term, but that implementation is inconsistent across federal agencies despite his claim of being the most open president in history.
"While the Obama administration deserves praise for the important work it has done to build a platform for open government in its first term, the job is unfinished," according to the report.
The center, formerly called OMB Watch, issued the report at the start of Sunshine Week, an effort by civics groups, governments and newspapers to promote transparency in government across the nation. A copy was sent to the White House, but officials there did not respond to a request for comment.
The 50-page study says the area most in need of improvement is national security. The White House has withheld decisions and documents that have the force of law, labeled documents as classified even if they do not need to be and aggressively prosecuted whistleblowers, bringing six cases against employees for leaks compared to only three known previous cases since 1917.
And the administration, like the George W. Bush administration before it, has sought the dismissal of cases against the U.S. government claiming entire topics are privileged, not just specific records. For example, it invoked the privilege to dismiss a case challenging the targeting of U.S. citizen and alleged terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, killed by a drone in Yemen in 2011.
Bush was criticized for authorizing a secret domestic spying program and military tribunals without court involvement after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Obama has been questioned for authorizing the military's use of drones to kill suspected terrorists overseas, including Americans. After pressure, the White House recently released to lawmakers justifications for the killings.
On his first day in office, Obama offered a sweeping promise of transparency, issuing a number of executive actions to provide more openness at every level of federal government and greater disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
"My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government," Obama wrote at the time. "Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government." n