The White House Has Heard Your Calls for Transparency…Sort Of

The White House’s transparency gesture doesn’t really amount to much.

The Obama administration has heard citizens’ calls for open government, according to a White House blog post Monday.

The post followed an earlier call for input on how the government should assess its own progress on transparency. The White House was soliciting advice by email and on the social question and answer site Quora.  

“We heard from you that it would be helpful if we published the text of the president's directive extending whistleblower protections to the intelligence and national security communities for the first time,” Lisa Ellman, chief counselor for the Open Government Partnership wrote. “We decided you were right. Click here to find the directive.”

That request must have come by email, though. The open and transparent calls for openness and transparency on Quora only mention whistleblowers by way of criticizing President Obama for prosecuting more whistleblowers than his predecessors. There are also calls to publish government information in non-proprietary formats and to update or kill the administration’s We the People petition platform on Quora, which Monday’s blog post doesn’t mention.

The text of that directive extending whistleblower protections also isn’t exactly a revelation, by the way. It appeared in The Washington Post in October soon after the president signed the directive and could be found with a simple Google search.

This isn’t to say small steps on transparency aren’t worthwhile. They are. And they’re appreciated. But the public relations push and back patting that accompanies such baby steps from the White House tends to produce cynicism and wariness among journalists and other transparency advocates who are already a cynical and wary group. And that’s not an environment conducive to a serious discussion about how the government should assess its transparency efforts.