Despite the Barack Obama Administration promise to make government information more transparent and available to the public, a recent Scripps Howard and Ohio University poll showed that seven out of 10 Americans believe that the federal government is either "very secretive" or "somewhat secretive."
Of the 1,001 adults surveyed in the National Sunshine Week poll, 44 percent said the White House is "very secretive."
Obama's first 15 months in office has been dominated by a federal spending tsunami, including the $787 billion stimulus package, as well as those whopping bailouts for banks and auto makers. Now, the president has pushed back everything on his calendar this week, including an international trip, to focus on getting his massive health care bill passed in the House.
The president stated at the very beginning of his presidency that his administration would provide unprecedented accountability under the federal Freedom of Information Act. He promised to publish all non-emergency legislation to the Web site for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the president signed it.
After Obama's pledge that his office would usher in this "new era" of openness, only one of the first 11 bills he quickly signed into law made it under that five-day posting promise. A one-for-11 batting average isn't exactly what the people had in mind from Obama's more "transparent" White House.
The American people are certainly skeptical. When asked if Obama's order has made federal agencies more open when people ask for information, only 32 percent in the Scripps Howard poll said the order made agencies more open, while 47 percent said the agencies have not become more open.
The survey showed that people believe state and local governments tend to be much more "open and transparent." This disconnect between elected officials and their constituents widens when one reaches the federal level.
When the survey participants were asked if "there is more secrecy, less secrecy or about the same amount of secrecy in the Obama administration as in the previous administration," 38 percent said there's about the same amount of secrecy as previous administration, 34 percent said the government's become less secret under Obama and 22 percent said it has become even more secretive.
With a possible vote on Obama's massive health care bill looming at the end of this week, the amount of backroom politicking and deal-making to buy out the undecided legislators will be more intense than ever. Last year's "Louisiana purchase" deal that secured Sen. Mary Landrieu's vote ($300 million in Medicare benefits for her state) may look like small change by the time Pelosi, Obama and the Democratic leadership get through working over the fence-sitters in Congress.
The secretive vote-buying is nothing new – all administrations have done it – but this week's arm-twisting and deal-making by the Democratic leadership to force the huge health care bill will indeed be historic.
The administration has been good at staging its own pep rallies and town hall meetings. It's too bad C-Span or the American people can't get behind the scenes to see and hear what this "open and transparent" administration is really up to as it tries to ram another massive government program through – at any cost.
By Jim Zbick