President Receives Transparency Award in Closed Meeting

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Not an April Fools’ prank. Seriously.

According to Politico and the Washington Post, a couple of weeks ago President Obama was scheduled to receive an award from the organizers of the Freedom of Information Day Conference, to be presented at the White House by “five transparency advocates.” The White House postponed that meeting because of events in Libya and Japan, and it was rescheduled for Monday, March 30.

That meeting did take place—behind closed doors.

The press was not invited to the private transparency meeting, and no photos from or transcript of the meeting have been made available. The event was not listed on the president’s calendar, which tells us only that he was in an education town-hall meeting at 10:30 on Monday, and then apparently just lounged around until he went on TV at 7:30 (to tell us why he had transparently and unilaterally decided to start bombing another country a couple of weeks before without telling Congress). Nor is the award mentioned anywhere on the White House website, including on the page devoted to transparency and good government. Were it not for the testimony of the transparency advocates who met secretly with the president, there wouldn’t seem to be any evidence that the meeting actually took place.

They say they didn’t know the White House had failed to tell anybody about the transparency meeting.

“I think this is a particularly bad situation and I’m not going to try to defend the president on that,” said Gary Bass, founder of OMB Watch, who was allegedly part of the alleged meeting. It was “crazy stupid” to keep it a secret, said another alleged attendee, Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight. “Someone on the White House staff should get their butt kicked for this one.”

They did insist that Obama deserved the award, not because his is necessarily the “most open and transparent administration in history,” as he promised; or because he has taken steps to protect whistleblowers, because he hasn’t; but because he has at least started to change the fetish for classifying any and all information that the government has had in the past. Still, they were not pleased with him about the closed meeting on openness.

“It’s almost a theater of the absurd to have an award on transparency that isn’t transparent,” said Bass. “The irony is,” he continued, “that everything the President said [about transparency] was spot-on. I wish people had heard what he had to say.”