There has been a lot of reporting lately on Obama’s executive orders calling for closing Gitmo and secret detention centers, and classifying waterboarding as torture. These are important, but also expected since he promised to do so during the campaign. Another major victory that has made a lot less news is his executive order to make government more transparent through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
I’ve mentioned here that William Lederer long ago (1960) predicted that the US would be more successful in the Cold War if we were more open, not less open, and noted that much “secret” government information is classified only to save officials and politicians from embarassment. The trend in the last eight years has been terrible, most notably with Bush’s executive order telling government agencies not to expend resources to answer Freedom of Information Act requests. Finally, 49 years after Lederer’s book, we have a president who has directed all government agencies that they should have a “presumption of openness” rather than one of secrecy. In other words, instead of a citizen needing to prove that a document should be public, the agency has to prove that a document should be secret.
This is huge and, I should add, a non-partisan issue. In general, liberals who believe in transparency in government and conservatives who believe government should be small and responsive have long complained about the expense, the inefficiency and the lack of transparency the policy of secrecy causes. Meanwhile, government officials who believe in strong government and strong executive power (that is, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld) have been in favor of a presumption of secrecy. So this is good news for true liberals and true conservatives, for civil libertarians and plain old libertarians.
See the Washington Post story, New Obama Orders on Transparency, FOIA Requests