Obama meets with Reporters Committee, access advocates

Freedom of Information | Feature | March 28, 2011

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish and members of the openness community today met with President Obama to discuss a range of transparency issues.

The Oval Office meeting — during which the president was given an award for his work thus far in encouraging agencies to release information to the public — was the first time that longtime open government advocates in Washington recalled a sitting president meeting with them to discuss government transparency.

During the meeting, President Obama reiterated the administration’s commitment to encouraging federal agencies to improve their response rates to Freedom of Information Act requests and to more proactively post government records and databases online. The president also reaffirmed support for a qualified federal shield law protecting reporters’ confidential sources.

President Obama also said that the administration would continue to support federal legislation to protect from retaliation whistleblowers who report government fraud and other illegal activity, but he noted that it is his duty as president to limit those protections in the cases of government employees who release information that is damaging to national security.

"We made clear to the president that while his efforts have been very important, much remains to be done," Dalglish said. "Not only is it important for the president and agency heads to commit to open government, but the message must also make its way down to those in the agencies who actually release the information. Those of us at the meeting committed to working with the White House to ensure that this continues.

"It's easy to lob criticism at the White House for the manner and speed with which transparency reforms are taking hold," Dalglish added. "Nevertheless, the fact remains that no other modern president has agreed to sit with us in the Oval Office for a conversation about transparency, and it would have been foolish to reject the opportunity.”

Joining Dalglish at the White House meeting with the president were: Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch; Tom Blanton, executive director of The National Security Archive at George Washington University; Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight; and Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org.