Opening government on Day One

Corinna Zarek | Freedom of Information | Feature | January 21, 2009

President Barack Obama, on his first full day in office, sent a strong message of his intention to run a transparent government, directing agencies to release information to the public when possible and rolling out a new White House Web site geared toward communication and transparency.

Obama issued two presidential memos -- one on Transparency and Open Government and another specifically on the Freedom of Information Act -- instructing federal government agencies to operate under principles of openness and transparency.

In this announcement at his first White House press conference, Obama committed to changing the course of the previous White House policy that asked federal government agencies to find ways under the law to keep information from getting out to the public. He instructed the attorney general to provide official guidance to agencies on implementing this policy change within 120 days.

The new WhiteHouse.gov also discusses Obama's commitment  to making his administration "the most open and transparent in history," and various means of communicating information to the public.

That this message was issued on Day One is a huge step toward opening access to the federal government. And it is crucial that this message came from the very top. However, the public will need to be no less diligent in utilizing the laws to request information and continuing to hold this new administration accountable just as any other.