Conference Leads to Delivery of Major Transparency Recommendations to Key Obama Administration Officials

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 12, 2009 – An academic conference held at American University Washington College of Law (WCL) has led to the delivery of specific recommendations on government transparency to key federal agencies based upon a survey undertaken by the Collaboration on Government Secrecy (CGS) both at that conference and on-line during the following week.

Survey participants were provided with a list of three dozen potential transparency measures and asked to rank them in order of importance and urgency. Results show that the top transparency measures recommended by those most interested in Obama Administration reform of Bush Administration secrecy are those relating to:

  1. aggressive implementation of new Justice Department Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) policies;
  2. strengthening of whistleblower protections;
  3. improved transparency of information pertaining to corporate “bailout” and economic stimulus steps;
  4. greater “affirmative” information disclosure both through the FOIA and elsewhere; and
  5. requiring federal agencies to accept and, wherever feasible, respond to FOIA requests electronically, rather than continuing to require that such requests be made on paper or by fax.

"We've taken this extraordinary step so as to best advise the new administration as to which remedial measures are both most important and most urgent for attention in the near term," said CGS Executive Director Daniel J. Metcalfe. "Everyone knowledgeable about this subject area, not to mention familiar with the extreme secrecy of the past eight years, knows that there's a long way to go -- so having a very specific set of recommendations differentiated on a ‘sooner-rather-than-later' basis like this can matter greatly."

These results of this unprecedented survey, aimed at providing a “openness-in-government community-wide consensus” on the measures that most warrant the Obama Administration’s attention on a “sooner-rather-than-later” basis, were sent in full detail to key officials in the White House, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Justice, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the General Services Administration by CGS.  They build upon the extraordinary “Day One” memoranda on government transparency that were issued by President Obama on Jan. 21 and are based on the premise that while the Obama Administration certainly appears more willing than any presidential administration in history to do all that it can to promote transparency it nevertheless must make hard choices among competing priorities in the weeks and months ahead.

The Jan. 29 conference, entitled "Information Policy in the New Administration," gathered an assemblage of principal government openness advocates and most interested members of the public to focus on these issues at the very outset of the Obama Administration.  It was conducted by WCL’s Collaboration on Government Secrecy, which was created to focus on the closely related subjects of openness in gov­ern­­ment, freedom of information, transparency, and "government secrecy," both in the United States and internationally, and serves as a center of expertise, scholarly research, and infor­mation resources in these academic fields, as well as a focal point for sound public policy development.

The conference was attended by more than 100 persons, including academics, members of the media and media-related groups, and representatives of nearly every major openness-in-government organization.  It was made possible by a foundation grant from the Open Society Institute, under auspices of its new Transparency and Integrity Fund, which supports the promotion of government accountability through transparency and citizen involvement in democratic processes both in the United States and abroad.  Additionally, the program was Webcast live, allowing it to reach an especially broad audience.  That Webcast is now available for viewing on the WCL Special Events Webcast site, and the survey continues to be available on CGS’s Web site for further public input.

This program was part of the annual Founders' Celebration, a series of events in spring 2009 at WCL that will explore some of the most important legal issues facing the nation and the world today. CGS held two such programs in 2008 and has two more scheduled to be held on March 16 ("FOI Day") and April 28 of this year.

For additional information, please visit the CGS website. Contact the Office of Special Events and Continuing Legal Education by email at secle@wcl.american.edu or by calling (202) 274-4075. Media should contact Franki Fitterer at (202) 274-4279. All events take place at American University Washington College of Law, 4801 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.

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