“Transparency is fundamental to government of the people, by the people, for the people,” the leaders of 43 organizations supporting open government wrote in a joint letter sent to Biden on Monday and obtained by POLITICO. “We call on you to make open government one of the most important priorities of your administration and one of the most important legacies your presidency could pass on to future generations.”
Although Biden’s presidency is now over a month old, the groups urged Biden to stress to federal government officials that transparency is “a pillar of democratic governance and the accountability of all federal employees, especially chiefs. agency ”. (The letter observes in a footnote that many of the same groups have proposed a “Day 1” memo on this topic.)
“Disclosure, openness and accessibility should be our government’s default modus operandi,” the groups wrote.
Biden has taken some steps in this direction since taking office by promising to resume publishing of White House visitor logs and pledging to cooperate with Congressional and litigation efforts to explore the roots of the take. stormed the Capitol last month.
Open government organizations also called on Biden to stress the importance of upholding the Freedom of Information Act, including the 2016 amendments that said disclosure exemptions could only be invoked to protect against a “Foreseeable harm”. Supporters are also pushing for more proactive disclosures, in which cases are made public online by agencies without anyone making a formal request.
The groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, are also pushing for “sweeping” changes to curb what they describe as a pervasive overclassification of government documents for reasons national security.
Promoters of the openness want Biden to issue direct orders declassifying specific types of documents, like legal opinions and Department of Justice reports detailing torture of suspects detained in the United States following the 9/11 attacks , as well as a directive to reform the pre-publication review system that often delays or bottlenecks books that former public servants seek to write in their time in government service.
The new letter also pushes Biden to ensure that files that may reveal wrongdoing by Trump administration officials in areas such as immigration are not swept under the rug by policies that could allow deleting those files in as little as three years.
“Evidence of wrongdoing or incompetence of federal officials and records scheduled for destruction despite stakeholder objections, such as detention and civil rights complaints held by immigration and customs services,” should be given special attention, ”the organizations wrote.
While some aspects of the missive focus on exposing the wrongs of the past, pro-transparency groups insist openness is key to keeping Biden out of trouble for his new administration.
“As our country’s history has shown us time and time again, when government secrecy proliferates, so do violations of civil liberties and obstacles to democratic accountability,” the organizations wrote.