Obama Gets Anti-Secrecy Award

Politico – March 31, 2011

President Obama finally and quietly accepted his “transparency” award from the open government community this week — in a closed, undisclosed meeting at the White House on Monday.

The secret presentation happened almost two weeks after the White House inexplicably postponed the ceremony, which was expected to be open to the press pool.

This time, Obama met quietly in the Oval Office with Gary Bass of OMB Watch, Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org, without disclosing the meeting on his public schedule or letting photographers or print reporters into the room.

“Our understanding going into the meeting was that it would have a pool photographer and a print reporter, and it turned out to be a private meeting,” Bass told POLITICO. “He was so on point, so on target in the conversation with us, it is baffling why he would not want that message to be more broadly heard by reporters and the public interest community and the public generally.”

Just hours before the White House put off the original event, White House press secretary Jay Carney was defiant in his defense of Obama’s transparency record against criticism that it might have been premature.

“This president has demonstrated a commitment to transparency and openness that is greater than any administration has shown in the past, and he’s been committed to that since he ran for President and he’s taken a significant number of measures to demonstrate that,” Carney said in a testy exchange with Fox News reporter Wendell Goler on March 16.

The transparency advocates who presented the award to Obama say that the recognition is important, because despite the work left to be done, Obama has done a lot to change the government’s posture toward openness issues.

But others believed the positive reinforcement was more than a little unnecessary.

“I don’t feel moved today to say ‘thank you, Mr. President,’” said Steve Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. But he said he understands the award to be “aspirational,” in recognition of Obama’s potential to do more on the transparency front.

“And in that sense, one could say it resembles the award at the Nobel Peace Prize,” Aftergood said. “It’s not because Obama brought peace to anyone but because people hoped he would be a force for good in the world, and maybe that’s the way to understand this award.”

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