Free Markets, Free People

transparancy

Transparency? Not this White House

Ben Smith at Politico reports that Police chased off reporters yesterday during a protest of DADT by gay service members, in uniform who chained themselve to the fence.  As you might expect, the press was not at all happy:

Police chased reporters away from the White House and closed Lafayette Park today in response to a gay rights protest in which several service members in full uniform handcuffed themselves to the White House gate to protest “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

People who have covered the White House for years tell me that’s an extremely unusual thing to do in an area that regularly features protests.

Smith has a video up showing this happening. Some might think that Smith is making too much of a isolated incident, but apparently there is some real discontent within the White House press corps specificially and the Washington media in general.  This is just another incident that further deepens that discontent.

Jamie Dupree points out that every White House eventually comes into conflict with the WH press corps and the press in general – there a natural friction there.  The press wants unlimited access and the WH simply can’t grant that.  However, Ed Chen, the head of the White House Correspondent’s Association says this particular White House seems even worse than others:

Chen’s quote to Politico is very interesting, saying that in his over 10 years at the White House, “rarely have I sensed such a level of anger, which is wide and deep, among members over White House practices and attitude toward the press.”

In other words, reporters feel like this administration is not being very open on a number of fronts.

At issue is how the Obama White House has limited press access to events, using its own photographer for example to take pictures, and not allowing photo opportunities and/or questions for Presidential meetings with other world leaders.

Now you may say, “big deal, so the press is whining”.  And I’m not one to normally stick up for the press.  But they do have a job to perform. And as all of us know, especially when the news might be damaging to political opponents, Democrats love to wave “the people’s right to know” around like a flag.

However, the thing to be reminded of here is the promise – the most transparant administration ever (right up there with the Pelosi promise of “the most ethical Congress ever”). This strong-arming of the press to keep them away from covering some “dissenters” is just another in a long line of examples of what you get when you buy a pig in a poke and don’t do the due dilligence of examining the character and background of the person making all the grand promises.

The discovery process – which the very same press should have been an intimate part of prior to Obama’s election – is now yielding much less than was hoped for (yes, I use the word “hope” in place of “expected” because expectation is usually based in actions of the past). Perhaps that’s why Obama’s popularity polls continue to fall.

Meanwhile the press is reaping what it helped sow.

~McQ

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“Transparancy” Apparently Trumps The 1st Amendment

From the White House Blog in an entry written by Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform in “the spirit of transparancy”:

… [T]he President’s March 20, 2009 Memorandum on Ensuring Responsible Spending of Recovery Act Funds. Section 3 of the Memorandum required all oral communications between federally registered lobbyists and government officials concerning Recovery Act policy to be disclosed on the Internet; barred registered lobbyists from having oral communications with government officials about specific Recovery Act projects or applications and instead required those communications to be in writing; and also required those written communications to be posted on the Internet.

However, a couple of changes have been made, among them:

First, we will expand the restriction on oral communications to cover all persons, not just federally registered lobbyists. For the first time, we will reach contacts not only by registered lobbyists but also by unregistered ones, as well as anyone else exerting influence on the process. We concluded this was necessary under the unique circumstances of the stimulus program.

So thinking this through, could “anyone” include a TV or print reporter asking an oral question to a government official concerning Recovery Ac Policy? Or a particular Recovery Act project that might impact their viewership or readership? Is it possible the information provided, if government officials are subjected to such oral scrutiny, might end up “exerting influence on the process”?

How about a concerned citizen who happens to be a blogger?

Doesn’t this give government officials the cover to duck such oral inquiries?  How does that enhance transparency?

And ultimately, doesn’t this smack of a wee bit of a conflict with the 1st Amendment (free speech, free press, the right to petition government)?

And if “the unique circumstances of the stimulus program” are enough to limit 1st Amendment rights, per this paragon of “ethics and government reform, what other “unique circumstances” might be cited in the future to do the same sort of thing, given the precedent this sets?

As Mark Tapscott says:

This is the Camel’s nose under the tent, being poked because of special circumstances.

Carter Wood notes:

“Lobbyists and organizations that lobby complained that the White House’s restrictions on lobbying on stimulus fund projects were discriminatory and unfair because the same restrictions didn’t apply to people like corporate executives or officials. So these memorandumly noted changes address that fairness issue by expanding the ban on orally petitioning the government or expressing one’s views through speech. In the interests of transparency the First Amendment must be sacrificed.

“The restrictions are also ambiguous enough that a lobbyist or other petitioner won’t be sure how to fully comply. So if someone runs afoul of White House officials, a phone call to a news outlet or a friendly prosecutor can punish the offender. Ambiguous rules plus capricious application equals negative rule of law.”

The only transparency in this process is the fact that the White House is telling you the rule. But the rule then precludes oral questioning which might make the process even more transparent. If even the remote possibility exists that such communication might “exert influence on the process” then it is prohibited.

The White House’s apparent intent is to run a transparent process. The result is overreaching by the executive branch with poorly thought through restrictions on speech that are seemingly unconstitutional. The problem is they obviously don’t feel that to be the case. Or if they do, they think they should have the right to restrict certain forms of communication between government and anyone they decide if “unique circumstances” are existent (guess who get’s to determine whether they are or not?).

Frankly that should bother you.

However, fear not – I’m sure those that continually cited the Bush administration for alleged expansion of executive power will be among the first to address this obvious abuse of Constitutional power and call for an immediate revocation of the rule.

~McQ

Quote Of The Day

From Jim Harper of CATO speaking of the Obama on-line “Townhall meeting” yesterday:

President Obama promised to make his administration the most open and transparent in history, and taking questions from the public kind of looks like that. But it also kind of looks like gimmicky, a canned publicity stunt, rather than true openness in government.

Real transparency would include fulfilling his campaign promise to post bills online for five days before signing them. The President has now signed ten bills into law and not subjected any of them to that five-day public review.

Ten bills.  That’s zero for ten in the transparancy department.

Yup, we’re just in too much of a hurry to really be transparent, apparently.  And the press is doing such a great job of keeping Mr. Transparancy’s feet to the fire, isn’t it?

~McQ

The Promise And The Reality (Part II) – Massive Waste, Fraud And Abuse Likely With Passage Of “Stimulus” Bill

The fear-mongering and panic inducing rhetoric used by the Obama administration and Congresional Democrats concerning the “stimulus” bill has set up another probable broken promise – this time on an unimaginably massive scale.

The Promise: The end of wasteful government spending and more accountability:

-Make Government Spending More Accountable and Efficient: Obama and Biden will ensure that federal contracts over $25,000 are competitively bid. Obama and Biden will also increase the efficiency of government programs through better use of technology, stronger management that demands accountability and by leveraging the government’s high-volume purchasing power to get lower prices.

- End Wasteful Government Spending: Obama and Biden will stop funding wasteful, obsolete federal government programs that make no financial sense. Obama and Biden have called for an end to subsidies for oil and gas companies that are enjoying record profits, as well as the elimination of subsidies to the private student loan industry which has repeatedly used unethical business practices. Obama and Biden will also tackle wasteful spending in the Medicare program.

The administration’s promise was transparency, bid competition, and new auditing resources and oversight boards.

The Reality: But this “stimulus” bill will most likely overwhelm any ability to properly monitor the spending anticipated. And, if such proper monitoring and regulating of spending is indeed required, it will drastically slow the spending process which is supposed to provide the stimulus.

The Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan could end up wasting billions of dollars by attempting to spend money faster than an overburdened government acquisition system can manage and oversee it, according to documents and interviews with contracting specialists.

The $827 billion stimulus legislation under debate in Congress includes provisions aimed at ensuring oversight of the massive infusion of contracts, state grants and other measures. At the urging of the administration, those provisions call for transparency, bid competition, and new auditing resources and oversight boards.

But under the terms of the stimulus proposals, a depleted contracting workforce would be asked to spend more money more rapidly than ever before, while also improving competition and oversight. Auditors would be asked to track surges in spending on projects ranging from bridge construction and schools to research of “green” energy and the development of electronic health records — a challenge made more difficult because many contracts would be awarded by state agencies.

The stimulus plan presents a stark choice: The government can spend unprecedented amounts of money quickly in an effort to jump-start the economy or it can move more deliberately to thwart the cost overruns common to federal contracts in recent years.

“You can’t have both,” said Eileen Norcross, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center who studied crisis spending in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “There is no way to get around having to make a choice.”

So here’s the choice – remove the oversight, drop the transparancy, go with “no-bid” contracts and eschew the auditing process which will slow the spending to a trickle, or keep them in place and accept the molasses slow flow of supposed stimulus funds.

The probability is we’ll see the promise go by the boards. Why? Because of the insistence by both Congressional leaders and the administration that this bill be passed now, that it can’t wait and that it shouldn’t be debated (and by implication, shouldn’t be closely examined either).

“We don’t have the means to make sure we don’t blow through billions of dollars and give it to the wrong people,” said Keith Ashdown, chief investigator at the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense. “We’re on track to lose billions, if not tens of billions, to waste, fraud and abuse.”

Goodger said the federal contracting system has been extremely troubled in recent years. He emphasized the lack of trained employees to manage contracts, which he called a “human capital crisis.”

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, a group that represents government contractors, does not oppose the stimulus package. But he said the government appears to lack the planning and the “infrastructure and architecture” upfront to manage the spending.

“Without it,” he said, “we’re going to have a repeat of what we’ve seen over and over and over, from major weapons systems to Katrina and Iraq.”

Hope and change.

~McQ