Obama Transition Team Imposes Transparency Policy

On December 5, 2008, President-elect Obama’s transition team chief John Podesta issued a memorandum to its staff instituting what is called a “Seat at the Table” transparency policy. The memo states that “any documents from official meetings with outside organizations will be posted on our website for people to review and comment on.”

The policy requires the following information to be posted on the Obama transition team website:

  • Documents: All policy documents and written policy recommendations from official meetings with outside organizations.
  • Meetings: The date and organizations represented at official meetings in the Transition headquarters or agency offices, with any documents presented.

The memo states the requirements are “a floor, not a ceiling, and all staff are strongly encouraged to include additional materials. Such materials could include documents (recommendations, press releases, etc.) presented in smaller meetings or materials or made public by the outside organization without a connection to an official meeting.”

The policy requires Obama Transition staff members, prior to an official meeting with an outside organization or organizations, to inform attendees that they must agree that any documents provided will be made public and posted on the “Seat at the Table” section of the Obama website.

Three exceptions to the general rules are set forth in the policy.

First, to protect the personal privacy of individuals, the policy does not apply to personnel matters and hiring recommendations. Second, the policy does not apply to “non-public or classified information acquired from the Agency Review Process and internal memorandum.” The memorandum provides no clarification as to what qualifies as “non-public” information.

Finally, the policy also includes what could be considered a major loophole. An “‘official meeting’ is defined as a meeting with outside organizations or representatives of those organizations to which three or more outside participants attend.” So apparently the policy does not apply to meetings with individuals or with one or two representatives of an outside organization.

There has been no definitive word as to whether the Obama administration will impose similar requirements after the president-elect is inaugurated.

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