Few bars have been set lower than the one Joe Biden has had to clear when it comes to bringing transparency back to the White House. Donald Trump has been an easy act to follow.
But five weeks into office, Biden has fallen short of his former boss, Barack Obama, in several areas, and is under pressure to do more to restore confidence in the federal government following Trump’s chaotic term in the White House.
Among the critiques: The schedules for the president and vice president aren’t posted online. The White House comment line is shut down. There are no citizen petitions on the White House’s website.
The White House has committed to releasing visitor logs. But it doesn’t plan to divulge the names of attendees of virtual meetings, which are the primary mode of interaction until the coronavirus pandemic eases.
And while Biden has received kudos for keeping the American public informed, primarily by resuming the daily White House press briefings, he has yet to hold a news conference of his own.
“The steps they’ve taken are welcome, but insufficient to the moment and the need,” said Alex Howard, an open government advocate who directs the Digital Democracy Project at the Demand Progress Educational Fund, an arm of a left-leaning group. “They need to keep ‘showing their work’ by opening Cabinet meetings, disclosing information and using political capital to emphasize that being ‘open by default’ isn’t just an option but an obligation across the government.”
For dozens of good government groups on the left and right, simply not being Trump is not enough. They are now urging Biden to do more, including fixing the very problems in transparency laws that his predecessor’s actions showed need fixing. That includes answering public records requests more quickly; publishing Office of Legal Counsel opinions; revising classification policies; and releasing logs of virtual meetings and physical meetings at other locations where the president and his aides travel.
In recent days, those groups have sent letters to the White House, questioning practices and asking for policy changes. The center-left Brookings Institution issued a new 70-page ethics report that urged more openness to restore trust in democracy after Trump shattered norm after norm.