The importance of transparency in government

Nick Bezier, Guest Reporter

My typical routine for research on opinion articles is to find op-eds that national pundits have created, and to let them educate and persuade me on their own. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find an article either supporting or opposing the recent rule change by the Obama administration that exempts the Office of Administration, an internal affairs service within the Executive Office of the President, from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provisions.
To me, it seems it’s because this particular exemption is inconsequential and diverts attention from real transparency battles. The action is consistent with court action, won’t stop discretionary releases of information and distracts from larger issues of transparency.
Court rulings regarding the privilege of the White House from FOIA have stretched from Republican to Democratic administrations. Given the interests of protecting national security, trade secrecy and personnel rules, the courts have ruled that the White House should be able to enjoy some autonomy. The ruling is entirely within the bounds of what the courts have already established.
Despite the change, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest insisted that discretionary releases of information to the public will still continue. While the Office of Administration does handle the archiving of e-mails and is thus exposed to state secrets, it also handles lighter fare. A past discretionary release from the Office of Administration gave away the White House kitchen’s recipe for beer. Earnest insisted that releases in veins similar would continue after the rule change.
Should transparency advocates really be investing their capital in ensuring access to presidential recipes? There are far more significant battles to be waged in the interest of open government. The continued extra-judicial killing of American citizens overseas via drone strikes, massive fees charged for conducting FOIA requests that shut out average Americans from the discovery process and the exposition of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails (which, had I more space to comment, I’d point out as a huge abrogation of the public trust).
Transparency in government is important. If transparency advocates had unlimited resources, I’d encourage the fight to expose the White House to FOIA, provided limited exemptions that protect the national interest. However, that’s not the case. Attempting to reverse the courts on this particular office’s FOIA status would take years and significant financial and human capital, all to expose recipes that might make the second hour of your preferred network morning news show. Fighting for bigger secrets needs to be the focus.

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