For awhile, we thought President Barack Obama would become the “sunshine” president.

On his first day in office, Obama issued a “Day One” memorandum calling for greater access to government records.

The president launched two sweeping initiatives designed to open government records to Americans.

The first gave his new chief technology officer 120 days to develop a plan for better public access to records.

The second ordered the U.S. Attorney General to issue new, improved guidelines for official Freedom of Information Act requests.

The moves were meant to lift the veil of secrecy and obstruction that had descended over the activities of the federal government during the Bush administration, particularly during the initial days of the War on Terror.

Since then, however, the president seems to have softened on his commitment to open government, and a troubling pattern has developed.

When the release of information might disadvantage the president or perceived U.S. interests, Obama has chosen to pull the shade rather than allow the sun to shine in.

When he was a U.S. senator, Obama criticized Vice President Dick Cheney for holding secret meetings with coal, oil and gas executives to formulate a U.S. energy policy.

Yet, last week, the Obama administration rejected a FOIA request for visitor logs that would show the identities of coal executives who visited and lobbied the White House.

The Obama administration has also refused to release information about Bush-era programs to eavesdrop on Americans, despite denouncing those programs as a candidate.

The administration has also so far failed to develop a Web site that would allow citizens to track individual stimulus spending projects.

Recovery.gov, the government’s Web site on the massive stimulus program, still promises that tool, yet offers nothing more than the broad outlines of spending initiatives.

Users are left clicking through reports and press releases, but there is no simple way to tell exactly which projects are being funded in which states.

This is a $787 billion program. While a portion of that, about $288 billion, is going to Americans in the form of tax cuts, nearly $500 billion will be spent directly by the U.S. government between now and 2012.

Through the power of the Web, the government can and should make that spending as transparent as possible.

It is often said that the president is “flexible” and “pragmatic.”

That’s all well and good. But there is no sense having values unless you stick by them, not just when it’s easy to do so, but also when it hurts.

In the short run, it’s usually easier for government officials to hide embarrassing details from the public. There is often no immediate benefit to revealing what’s going on.

But, in the long run, governmental power is built upon the trust and consent of the American people.

As the previous administration proved, hiding facts and information from the American people is ultimately self-defeating.


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