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If a Presidential Action Isn't Reported to the White House Press Corps, Does It Make A Sound?

Here's an interesting Politico story on the Obama Administration's inconsistent release of information on various Presidential actions.

In his first weeks in office, President Barack Obama shut down his predecessor's system for reviewing regulations, realigned and expanded two key White House policymaking bodies and extended economic sanctions against parties to the conflict in the African nation of Cote D'Ivoire.

Despite the intense scrutiny a president gets just after the inauguration, Obama managed to take all these actions with nary a mention from the White House press corps.

The moves escaped notice because they were never announced by the White House Press Office and were never placed on the White House web site. . . .

A Politico review of Federal Register issuances since Obama took office found three executive orders, one presidential memorandum, one presidential notice, and one proclamation that went unannounced by the White House.

I don't see anything nefarious here, as none of these actions are the sort of thing that an Administration would want to hide. But it is nonetheless interesting that the White House has failed to announce significant policy actions, and even more interesting that this failure has meant that such actions go largely unreported in traditional news outlets.

In a related vein, the Administration has yet to follow through with its promise of "Sunlight before Signing" either. President Obama pledged delay signing all non-emergency legislation for five days so as to allow public examination and discussion. Yet President Obama signed both the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and S-CHIP extension within two days of passage. He waited a little longer to sign the stimulus bill, but that was supposed to be such an emergency that the House leadership would not keep their commitment to giving the public 48-hours to digest the bill before a vote was called.

These stories (and others) underscore the fact that it is much easier to promise greater sunlight and transparency than it is to deliver. Campaign promises notwithstanding, the Administration is likely to stumble along for a bit in this area. But as an advocate of greater government transparency, this is an area in which I hope the Administration regains its footing.

Steve:
But it is nonetheless interesting that the White House has failed to announce significant policy actions, and even more interesting that this failure has meant that such actions go largely unreported in traditional news outlets.

Which of the enumerated items do you consider "significant policy actions"? From what I can tell, "realigned and expanded two key White House policymaking bodies" turns out to mean that they added a seat or two to some advisory boards I have never heard of.

My working assumption is that the Executive Branch is huge, it does thousands of things in the course of a day, and that there's a line to be drawn between the sort of things you would expect to announce to the press corps and the sort of things you would simply publish in the Federal Register (which exists for basically this purpose).

I certainly don't have an expectation that the White House Press Secretary will make a big announcement about the extension of "economic sanctions against parties to the conflict in the African nation of Cote D'Ivoire." Maybe it would be in the daily State Department briefing, I dunno. But while I think the "sunlight" complaint is legitimate, this other issue strikes me as a case of the media deciding on a storyline ("Obama isn't living up to his promises of transparency!") and then hunting around for a few examples, however trivial, that support it.
2.18.2009 5:21pm
Sagar:
yes, I am also waiting for a little more sunshine and for obama to keep his basic promises reagarding good governance. a prime example: giving public enough time to review a bill before signing it into law.

if only the SOX rules applied to the SOBs who are in congress ...
2.18.2009 5:21pm
Constantin:
But as an advocate of greater government transparency, this is an area in which I hope the Administration regains its footing.

What do you mean "regain"? If you're talking since Jan 20th, then your post poses the question of when such footing was gained to begin with. And if you're talking about the campaign, I'll wait until I see Obama's law school transcripts or the dates he was in the pews for Rev. Wright's hatefests to comment.
2.18.2009 5:50pm
htom (mail):
Reality only happens if a press release accompanies it.

No press release, it didn't happen.
2.18.2009 5:52pm
lesser ajax (mail):
If it's published in the Federal Register (the whole purpose of which, I gather, is to distribute information on government activity to the public) then I would argue that the action is by definition "announced" and "transparent". This just shows that the press corps has so completely embraced their role as sockpuppets that they're shocked that anyone expects them to actually expend the effort to read the Executive Branch's regularly published account of its own activity.
2.18.2009 5:54pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Having worked with several Administrations and their WH press corps, I have to agree with htom.

If the press does not hear about it--even more, publish it--then it simply has not happened for 99% of all practical purposes.

This is why the WH Press Corps tries to stick like glue to a president. They are (and certainly consider themselves to be) the medium through which acts taken at a distance have immediate effect.
2.18.2009 5:56pm
Houston Lawyer:
The Democrats did manage to let those who really count -- K Street lobbyists -- read the stimulus bill before distributing it to Republicans in Congress. I'm sure that weeks from now we will find out about some of the especially tasty morsels included in that monster.

What would be more beneficial than the alleged sunshine would be national media outlets who serve as something other than megaphones for the administration. Cross examination always reveals more than direct testimony.
2.18.2009 5:57pm
Sarcastro (www):
I think it's safe to assume Obama is doing everything my fevered imagination can come up with, only the MSM isn't reporting it.

Praying 5 times a day.
Putting up a bust of Stalin.
Secretly renditioning Republicans to Kenya.
Re-enacting that New Yorker cover.
Surrendering to Iran.
Surrendering to Syria.
Surrendering to Mexico.
Replacing Rush Limbaugh with an animatronic CIA copy.
Wearing a Hijab (cause Michelle is totally the man).
2.18.2009 6:06pm
pcharles (mail):
Yeah, that strange and exotic thing called the Federal Register.

To refresh everyone's recollection from first year legal research class, the Federal Register is the official daily publication for rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents. It is required by the Federal Register Act of 1935. On the other hand, the White House web site has been around since the mid-1990's?

I'm thinking that this is an example of the laziness of the press along with the Obama Administration taking advantage of the lazy press (nothing really nefarious there).
2.18.2009 6:06pm
John (mail):
"These stories (and others) underscore the fact that it is much easier to promise greater sunlight and transparency than it is to deliver."

Are you on drugs? Nothing could be easier than greater "sunlight and transparency." They just don't want to do it. They didn't want to wait for people to read the stimulus. They didn't want the press to notice what they don't put in press releases. It would have been very easy to be more transparent during the last month.
2.18.2009 6:17pm
Le Messurier (mail):
Questions:

How "timely" is the reporting of the Federal Register? Hours? Days? Weeks?

Does an order, rule etc, go into effect before or at the time of publication in the register?
2.18.2009 6:20pm
guy in the veal calf office (mail) (www):
The neat thing about the SCHIP bill is that within 1 month he already broke a major campaign promise. He had promised to not raise taxes on any person making less than $250,000 and the SCHIP bill increases taxes on cigarettes, smokeless tabacco, and cigars taxes, which are disproportionately purchased by the poor (included cigars for those who've never tasted the Philly Blunt and Swisher Sweet).

And why? To expand SCHIP coverage upward into the middle class.

Tax the poor to help the richer. Awesome.
2.18.2009 6:44pm
Curt Fischer:
I agree with the others that it's hard to fault someone for a lack of transparency when a log of all their actions appears in the Federal Register.

Maybe Obama should start all his press conferences with, "I trust you've all seen the Federal Register today, I'd be happy to take questions on any of the material you are concerned about."

I think the first time he tried this you wouldn't hear anything but the crickets.
2.18.2009 6:58pm
pcharles (mail):
Le Messurier: For regulations, there is a rule-making process that generally takes more than 90 days. In notice and comment rule making, the proposed rules/regulations are published in the Federal Register, then comments are solicited, then the final rules/regulations are published in the Federal Register. The final rules/regulations are then published in the annual Code of Federal Regulations.

I believe the Obama things were executive orders, which are also published in the Federal Register. They don't go through the rule-making process that is descibed above.

The other thing was to shut down his predecessor's system for reviewing regulations. I'm not sure if this was an executive order, but it doesn't sound like it is anything that is out of the ordinary. A new administration probably has a lot of latitude to do things like this in the manner they see fit.

Hey, I don't care for Obama and I think he is full of hot air (especially the pledge to post legislation five days before it is signed into law); however, the actions described in this particular article don't bother me.
2.18.2009 7:21pm
TerrencePhilip:
And this is the country's most elite political press corps. If you want to see cynical dodges on a grander scale, go to any state legislature in the country, where they know the key to getting one past the press is to drone on in committee till the reporters get bored and leave, then slip past whatever they really want to do.

Before we lawyers indulge in press-bashing for their laziness, herd mentality, and how easily they're fooled, remember that lawyers too rarely pore over the Federal Register, and we are all too often surprised by new statutes and court decisions that directly affect the outcome of what we are working on. Nobody's perfect . . .
2.18.2009 7:32pm
Barf:
What a risible piece of garbage that article is.
2.18.2009 7:41pm
Bruce Hayden (mail):
The other thing was to shut down his predecessor's system for reviewing regulations. I'm not sure if this was an executive order, but it doesn't sound like it is anything that is out of the ordinary. A new administration probably has a lot of latitude to do things like this in the manner they see fit.
Let me suggest though that there may have been some attempt to at least not make the repeal of those rules overly visible, since they apparently required regulatory impact analysis, which President Obama should presumably have backed, given his claim that he was going to make the government work better and more efficiently. Repealing these orders might be seen as making the government less transparent, not more so.
2.18.2009 7:49pm
Le Messurier (mail):
pcharles

Thanks for the answer. I understand the "rule" vs "exec. order" difference, but what I was getting at is if an executive order is written and signed, does it take effect at signing or when it is published in the register? And how long after signing does it get published in the register. (I know the register is published daily, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lag between signing and publication).
2.18.2009 7:49pm
sdfsdf (mail):
"President Obama pledged delay signing all non-emergency legislation for five days so as to allow public examination and discussion. Yet President Obama signed both the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and S-CHIP extension within two days of passage. He waited a little longer to sign the stimulus bill, but that was supposed to be such an emergency that the House leadership would not keep their commitment to giving the public 48-hours to digest the bill before a vote was called.

These stories (and others) underscore the fact that it is much easier to promise greater sunlight and transparency than it is to deliver."

As John said, that's a ludicrous statement. It would be trivially easy to deliver on the promise to delay signings-- so easy that it may literally be true that it's easier to deliver than to promise. In those two cases, I can't think why the President would break his promise, there's so little benefit to him. The only explanation I can think of is that promises mean so little to him that he doesn't even remember making them.
2.18.2009 9:28pm
NickM (mail) (www):

Surrendering to Mexico.



He tried this, but Mexico refused to accept the surrender when they realized the proposed terms would have required them to take California back.

Nick
2.19.2009 1:25am
pcharles (mail):
Bruce Hayden wrote:
Let me suggest though that there may have been some attempt to at least not make the repeal of those rules overly visible, since they apparently required regulatory impact analysis, which President Obama should presumably have backed, given his claim that he was going to make the government work better and more efficiently. Repealing these orders might be seen as making the government less transparent, not more so.

I absolutely agree. These actions by Obama really show that the campaign rhetoric was just a bunch of campaign rhetoric. Contrary to what the mainstream media, the Hollywood stars and Obama's adoring crowds believe, Mr. Obama is just a plain old politician (and perhaps a bad one).
2.19.2009 2:33pm

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