Dispatches from the Creation Wars

So far, Obama has taken some important steps. He’s issued an executive order rescinding a Bush order that mandated more secrecy in government:

Barack Obama’s first acts as president included signing three orders today that could open public access to documents and records that had been closed off during the Bush administration.

Obama reversed George W. Bush’s restrictions on access to records of former presidents. He also told the Justice Department to write new guidance to agencies on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to improve transparency, and gave top officials in his administration four months to create a new “Open Government Directive” that he said would go beyond the requirements of the open records law.

I know firsthand about the Bush administration’s secrecy fetish and their tendency to classify documents that should not be classified on fraudulent national security grounds. I had to go to court to get them to release a settlement they reached with EU, Canada and Japan over our online gambling laws (by the way, they caved in right around the election and we now have the document; we haven’t gone public with it because we aren’t certain what it means yet).

One of Obama’s memos says: “The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.”

It remains to be seen how this plays out in practice, but it has to be better than what Bush did on this issue.