A breakthrough on transparency

A BREAKTHROUGH ON TRANSPARENCY…. In an encouraging reversal, the Obama administration will break with Bush-era policies and make the names of visitors to the White House available to the public.

Until now, Obama had followed the Bush policy of keeping visitor logs secret. News organizations and watchdog groups had sought to make the records public to show who was influencing administration policy on health care, financial rules and other issues.

“We will achieve our goal of making this administration the most open and transparent administration in history,” Obama said in a prepared statement. “Americans have a right to know whose voices are being heard.”

The new policy would begin in mid-September. Electronic visitor logs maintained by the Secret Service would be released three to four months after visits are made. The disclosure would include who set up the meeting, where it was held and for how long. Specific requests for visits before Sept. 15 would be dealt with individually.

There will, apparently, be some exceptions, but they don’t seem unreasonable — meetings related to national security, personal visits to the Obama family, and limited confidentiality discussions (such as an interview with a prospective Supreme Court nominee) will not be released. The thousands of others who visit the White House every month will be released, and published online.

The new policy resolves a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). In a statement, CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said the group is dropping its case and is delighted by the White House’s announcement.

“Today the Obama administration has proven its pledge to usher in a new era of government transparency was more than just a campaign promise,” Sloan said. “The Bush administration fought tooth and nail to keep secret the identities of those who visited the White House. In contrast, the Obama administration — by putting visitor records on the White House web site — will have the most open White House in history.”