The Transparency President? The Obama Administration and Open Government



President Obama has trumpeted transparency as a major part of his agenda, promising “unprecedented” openness throughout the federal government. Although Obama benefits politically from the contrast with his predecessor's reputation for secrecy, in the long run an excessive emphasis on fishbowl governance can raise unrealistic expectations and ultimately backfire. After all, at some point transparency has its costs, such as when disclosure dampens internal deliberation or undermines privacy. The real issue, then, is how much transparency and what type. Despite its rhetoric, the Obama Administration has placed limits on transparency and will likely continue to do so. Yet members of the public and open government activists are unlikely to appreciate the need for such limits, leading to disappointment and charges of hypocrisy. It remains unclear whether Barack Obama will earn the mantle of the “transparency president”—or whether the hopes he has raised will, when unfulfilled, only reinforce public cynicism.