21 January 2009

Executive Orders

The White House website hasn't yet posted the new regime's first executive orders, so for the moment I have to take MSNBC's word for their contents. My first impressions are good. The President has apparently taken steps to increase the distance between lobbyists and his administration. He could have done more, however. Instead of the two-year ban on ex-officials lobbying the administration, he ought to have banned them for the duration of the administration that hired them. Ideally, such people should be banned from becoming lobbyists altogether, but that probably wouldn't be constitutional. The pay freeze on White House staffers is fine, but a pay cut may have made a better example. I'm most impressed by Obama's intention to facilitate the Freedom of Information Act.

He said he was directing agencies that vet requests for information to err on the side of making information public — not to look for reasons to legally withhold it — an alteration to the traditional standard of evaluation. Just because a government agency has the legal power to keep information private does not mean that it should, Obama said.

This is an immediate shift in tone from the Bush administration, and a welcome one so long as bureaucrats obey orders. Transparency is a necessity for small-r republican government, and Cheney-esque appeals to the necessary confidentiality of "frank exchanges" should have no force. It's one thing, of course, for Obama to proclaim these new principles, but it'll be up to the people to enforce them by making bureaucrats provide the information to which citizens are entitled and making a stink if they don't. It's still up to us to figure things out for ourselves.

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