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The Unreported White House Logs

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By Gautham Nagesh November 2, 2009

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The White House has been attracting attention recently for posting visitor logs online in an attempt to demonstrate the unprecedented level of transparency that President Obama has promised since his campaign began. This is the first time such information has been posted online.

The early verdict? Good, but not great, according to the nonprofit government watchdog OMB Watch:

This release is a positive step toward building a system of government transparency that is responsive to the public interest but we would still like to see the administration go further with this effort.

The post takes issue with the White House's decision to release only names that have been inquired about publicly and the fact that the original data set is less functional than this version on the social data site Socrata.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the Obama team has any plans to release a comprehensive list of visitors, which would likely take a database unto itself:

Only about 110 names -- and 481 visits -- out of the hundreds of thousands who have visited the Obama White House were made public. Like the Bush administration before it, Obama is arguing that any release is voluntary, not required by law, despite two federal court rulings to the contrary.

This is unfortunate; part of transparency is knowing who has access to those in power. While I understand that some visitors must be kept under wraps for diplomatic and national security reasons, I don't see why the White House can't post all other visitors online for all to see. The information is already being recorded and the only thing preventing its release is political concerns. Of course those same political concerns are exactly why this president will probably choose the same path as his predecessors and withhold the meaningful details of who has his ear. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it does make those promises of transparency ring a little hollow.

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