For Transparency Sake?
posted by Danielle Citron
Recall after President Obama’s first inauguration the fuss made about his administration’s commitment to transparent government. The January 2009 Open Government memorandum seemed a fresh start for openness in the post-9/11 era. Now, four years later, drastic change in government secrecy has not materialized. Let’s take DOJ’s release to two Congressional intelligence committees the OLC memo authorizing the use of drone strikes to kill American civilians abroad considered terrorists. According to the New York Times, the administration had until now refused to even officially acknowledge the existence of the documents, which had been reported about in the media. This recent revelation is just one example of what we say–a commitment to transparency–is not what we do. Consider that in a 2010 memo, the DOJ endorsed “the presumption that [OLC] should make significant opinions fully and promptly available to the public.” Despite this stated goal and the stated goals of the Open Government memorandum, the Sunlight Foundation reports that DOJ is “withholding from online publication 39% (or 201) of its 509 Office of Legal Counsel opinions promulgated between 1998 and 2012.” That is not to say that we have made no progress. As the Sunlight Foundation explains, the Obama administration published a slightly higher percentage of its OLC opinions online when compared to its predecessor. From inauguration until March 28, 2012, the Obama administration published 63% (40 of 63) of its OLC opinions online whereas Bush administration’s published 55% (54 of 98) of its second term opinions online, and published 11% (20 of 187) of its first term OLC opinions online by January 20, 2005.