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Federal Eye
Posted at 12:20 PM ET, 11/17/2011

Ironic? Transparency board meeting behind closed doors


Vice President Biden on Thursday is expected to “drop by” — but not attend — a meeting of a government transparency board. (Brendan Smialowski - Getty Images)

Updated 12:15 p.m. ET 11/18/2011

Other news organizations have noted the irony of Vice President Joe Biden stopping by a closed-door meeting of the new Government Accountability and Transparency Board.

Yes, definitely ironic. But there’s more to this.

This board’s monthly meetings are closed to the press, but minutes from each of the meetings are posted on a White House Web site.

Established in June by the White House as part of an anti-waste campaign, the board includes some of the government’s top watchdogs, including Earl Devaney, chairman of the federal stimulus oversight board and a former Interior Department inspector general.

The group is supposed to “recommend a broad range of strategies to make spending data more reliable and accessible to the American people,” according to the White House. The board “will also make recommendations to broaden the administration’s use of cutting edge technology to crack down on fraud, and focus on integrating data systems and using data for better decision-making.”

Final recommendations are expected to be released next month at a White House Cabinet meeting on cutting government waste.

Biden, according to his aides, is merely “dropping by” the meeting — he won’t be attending in a formal capacity.

Background briefings and closed-door meetings are common in every presidential administration, and White House aides insist there’s nothing to see here. But, by calling itself the most open and transparent government in modern history (since day one no less), the Obama administration invites deeper scrutiny and criticism of such events. To wit:

In March, President Obama accepted an award from transparency advocates for his work on opening up the government during an Oval Office meeting closed to reporters. (He was honored with the award despite criticism from some good-government groups that federal agencies aren’t abiding by White House instructions to grant more Freedom of Information Act requests.)

— Reporters regularly grumble that press access to White House bill signings and meetings is either canceled at the last minute or closed to print reporters and television cameras to keep Obama from having to answer questions that are shouted at him. The White House Correspondents’ Association protested on behalf of print and TV reporters in July when they were barred from pool access to Obama’s meetings with congressional leaders on the federal debt.

— In September, State Department officials briefed reporters on a new open government partnership with 30 countries — but insisted that the officials involved not be identified by name in news stories.

— Transparency advocates also note that the White House has done very little to fight proposed budget cuts for the Electronic Government Fund, established in the early days of the administration to build Web sites designed to bring more government information into the open.

This item has been corrected: Obama did not receive his transparency award from organizers of Sunshine Week, but instead was given the award during the week that raises awareness about government openness.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

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By  |  12:20 PM ET, 11/17/2011

Categories:  Administration

 
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