The first month of the Biden administration brought welcome signs that the president is committed to taking transparency and accountability seriously.
On Day 1, Press Secretary Jen Psaki proclaimed President Biden’s pledge “to bring transparency and truth back to government.” Two weeks later, President Biden himself affirmed this commitment, emphasizing how critical transparency is even when it comes to national security, the arena typically most cloaked in secrecy. And the administration also announced that it will make White House visitor logs public, restoring an Obama administration practice that the Trump administration rejected.
This is a promising start, but much more is needed to fix a system that was broken long before President Trump took office. Today, the Knight First Amendment Institute and the ACLU, together with more than 40 organizations, sent a letter to the president asking him to, among other things:
- Direct agencies to adopt new FOIA guidelines that prioritize transparency, including by ensuring compliance with FOIA’s foreseeable harm standard and by giving broad effect to the statute’s affirmative disclosure obligations;
- Issue an executive order reforming the broken prepublication review system;
- Assess, preserve, and disclose key records of the previous administration;
- Endorse legislative improvements to public records laws, including updates designed to address recent rulings by federal courts of appeals that threaten a resurgence of “secret law,” and
- Embrace major reforms of the government’s classification system.
These steps—along with the others outlined in the letter—are necessary to ensuring that the public has the information it needs to hold the government to account.
Anna Diakun is a staff attorney at the Knight Institute.