Campaign Promises

Other/Miscellaneous -> Transparency in Government -> Transparency


ItemTransparency in Government
TransparencyGrade
TE-7
The Promise: "That's what I will do in bringing all parties together, not negotiating behind closed doors, but bringing all parties together, and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN so that the American people can see what the choices are."
When/Where: Democratic Presidential Debate with Senator Hillary Clinton, Los Angeles, CA, 01/31/08.
Source: http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/01/31/dem.debate.transcript/
Status:This promise was repeated at least eight times during Candidate Obama's campaign. When debates and negotiations on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Affordable Care Act of 2010 took a highest priority position within the Obama Administration and Congress, none of the deliberations were broadcast on C-SPAN. In some cases, Republicans were reportedly denied access to "back room" negotiations.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's comment of 03/09/10 on the Affordable Care Act to the effect that "we have to pass the (health care) bill so that you can find out what is in it" did not reflect the transparency expected by the American people. They were insulted.

Subsequent important legislative negotiations such as those leading to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act 2010, the Continuing Resolution of early CY2011 and those pertaining to raising the federal debt limit and deficit reduction in 07/11 were done behind closed doors, despite President Obama's commitment to have all those talks/deals broadcast on C-SPAN.

Out of fairness, it is acknowledged that congressional discussions on such topics such as Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) management and financial reform were broadcast on C-SPAN. However, public coverage of other top priority legislation was either inconsistent or nonexistent during the Obama Administration.

This promise was not fulfilled.
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TE-8
The Promise: "As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Blueprint for Change" dated 10/09/08.
Source: https://my.ofa.us/page/-/Action%20Center/ObamaBlueprintForChange.pdf
Status:The Economic Stimulus Bill signed into law by President Obama on 01/29/09, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 signed into law on 02/17/09, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 signed into law on 03/30/10 are prime examples of bills passed with no 5-day public review period as promised.

When queried about the contents of the proposed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, blatant disrespect for the American taxpayer was voiced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on 03/09/10 when she stated "We have to pass the bill so you can find out what's in it..."

This promise was not fulfilled.
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TE-9
The Promise: "I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law."
When/Where: Obama's Responses to The Boston Globe's questions dated 12/20/07.
Source: http://www.boston.com/news/politics/2008/specials/CandidateQA/ObamaQA/
Status:President Bush signed nearly 1,200 nullifying statements during his presidency.

Fearing that his prerogatives were being threatened by Congress, President Obama back-peddled on this promise on 03/09/09 by issuing a memorandum that stated: "I will issue signing statements to address constitutional concerns only when it is appropriate to do so as a means of discharging my constitutional responsibilities...". He had to know that he would soon sign a statement in contravention of his original promise.

Two days later, on 03/11/09, Obama signed a statement to accompany the "Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009" circumventing the legislative intent of Congress with regard to contact between federal employees and congressional committee members when it comes to "whistleblowers" reporting fraud, waste and abuse matters. By so doing, President Obama signed a statement he promised he wouldn't sign.

This promise was not fulfilled.
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TE-10
The Promise: "...Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government."
When/Where: Obama/Biden Plan: "The Change We Need in Washington," dated 09/22/08.
Source: http://obama.3cdn.net/0080cc578614b42284_2a0mvyxpz.pdf
Status:The benefits of protecting whistleblowers are evident. Under the False Claims Act, the federal government successfully prosecuted 417 whistleblower cases in CY2011, up from 231 in CY2008. The CY2011 prosecutions alone recovered approximately $2.3B in taxpayer monies.

On 04/16/11, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and 14 co-sponsors introduced the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012 (S. 743). It was described as a "bill to amend chapter 23 of title 5, United States Code, to clarify the disclosures of information protected from prohibited personnel practices, require a statement in nondisclosure policies, forms, and agreements that such policies, forms, and agreements conform with certain disclosure protections, provide certain authority for the Special Counsel, and for other purposes." President Obama signed this bill into law on 11/27/12.

This promise was fulfilled.
1.00
TE-11
The Promise: "....we need earmark reform. And when I'm president, I will go line by line to make sure that we are not spending money unwisely."
When/Where: Presidential Debate, Oxford, MS, 09/26/08.
Source: http://votesmart.org/public-statement/381008/the-first-presidential-debate-transcript/?search=unwisely
Status:The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was loaded with earmarks, by some accounts up to 9,000. The promised "line-by-line" review was not conducted, reportedly for the sake of expediency. The President did not have "line item veto" powers anyway. All he could have done under the Constitution is either sign the bill when presented to him or return it to Congress with his objections, thereby delaying the process which he sought, at all costs, to avoid.

Another example: A "stopgap" measure extending the spending power of 11 Cabinet-level departments until mid-12/09 was approved by Congress on 10/29/09 (House 247 to 178; Senate 72 to 28) and contained approximately 526 earmarks valued at $341M. No "line by line" review was conducted.

President Obama promised to reduce earmark spending down to the CY1994 level of $7.8B (in nominal dollars). Instead, he signed into law $15.2B of appropriations for 11,124 earmarks during FY2009 and $11.0B of appropriations for 9,192 earmarks in FY2010. The FY2011 $1.1T omnibus spending bill released on 12/14/10 included approximately 6,600 earmarks worth about $8B for specific Senate and House member pet projects and programs.

In the aftermath of the CY2010 mid-term elections, it appeared that both houses of Congress were leaning toward a 2-year moratorium on earmarks. This did not happen as the proposed moratorium was rejected by the Senate on 11/30/10 (39 for, 65 against). However, on 02/01/11, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who served as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced that the 2-year earmark moratorium would be implemented over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) documented objections that President Obama is "absolutely wrong" and "should back off" his opposition to earmarks. The 2-year moratorium expired at the end of CY2012.

An Earmark Elimination Act of 2011 (S. 1930) was introduced in a bipartisan manner by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) on 11/29/11. Proponents of this legislation sought to include it as an amendment (S. 1472) to the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act of 2012. The proposed amendment was defeated (40 for, 59 against) on 02/02/12.

The House had a similar Earmark Elimination Act of 2011 (H.R. 3707) introduced by Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on 12/16/11. No action was taken on this proposed legislation and it expired with the 112th Congress at the end of CY2012.

Earmarks continued into FY2012 but were no longer referred to as "earmarks" but simply as budget "additions" or "policy issues." For example, the FY2012 Defense appropriation alone included 115 committee "additions" valued at $834M.

Although this promise was not intended to eliminate earmarks entirely, just reform them, it did call for "line by line" scrutiny by President Obama of earmarks appended to bills passed by Congress for his signature without public hearings. This didn't happen.

This promise was not fulfilled.
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TE-12
The Promise: "....will shed light on all earmarks by disclosing the name of the legislator who asked for each earmark, along with a written justification, 72 hours before they can be approved by the full Senate."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Blueprint for Change" dated 10/09/08.
Source: https://my.ofa.us/page/-/Action%20Center/ObamaBlueprintForChange.pdf
Status:The 2009 Economic Stimulus Bill was loaded with earmarks, by some accounts up to 9,000. While the House originator of individual earmarks became a matter of public record in this and subsequent bills signed into law by President Obama, the promised written notice 72 hours in advance of Senate approval has not yet happened.

Senator Thomas Coburn (R-OK) introduced the Earmark Transparency Act (S. 3335) on 05/11/10 to require Congress to establish a "unified and searchable on a public website" for Congressional earmarks to be posted in that database not later than five days after submission by a requester. This bill was reported by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on 07/28/10, but no further action was taken by the Senate. This bill expired with the 111th Congress in 01/11.

House Rules for the 112th Congress included the proposal that "Earmark information should be posted online in a centralized database. This includes earmarks, earmark requests and related documentation." Following up on this proposed House rule, Congressman Mike Quigly (D-IL) proposed on 01/05/11 that all earmark requests in the 112th Congress be made available for public review. This proposal would have required members of Congress to disclose all requests for funding in their Congressional districts to be posted on their official websites, including official earmark requests as well as soft earmark requests like letters, phone calls, or direct federal agency solicitations. This proposal was rejected by the 112th Congress House leadership.

Although a 2-year earmark moratorium was announced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) on 02/01/11, earmarks reportedly continued through FY2011. But there were positive developments. On 05/17/11, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), published guidelines for submitting amendments to the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Such budgetary amendments were not to be considered as "congressional earmarks" and amounts involved could only be for national security purposes. The resultant FY2012 NDAA had 115 such "amendments" valued at $834M.

As of end-CY2016, although the "earmark moratorium" was still in effect, sly legislators continued to practice alternative methods to "bring home the bacon" to their constituents. FY2016 earmarks, referred to by some as "congressionally directed spending," were contained in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 in an amount exceeding $5.1B. In FY2017, the amount went up to $6.8B.

The prevailing earmark moratorium rendered moot the basic tenets of this promise. It should be noted, however, that throughout the Obama Administration, Congress did not adopt any process for the promised 72-hour written public notification prior to Senate approval of bill "amendments" or "congressionally directed spending" -- whatever the term of choice may have been for earmarks.

This promise was not fulfilled.
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TE-13
The Promise: "Obama and Biden will nullify the Bush attempts to make the timely release of presidential records more difficult."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Blueprint for Change" dated 10/09/08.
Source: https://my.ofa.us/page/-/Action%20Center/ObamaBlueprintForChange.pdf
Status:During his first full day in office, 01/21/09, President Obama revoked Executive Order 13233 signed by President Bush on 11/01/01 that limited release of former presidents' records. President Obama's Executive Order 13489 supersedes Executive Order 13233.

This promise was fulfilled.
1.00
TE-14
The Promise: "...will ensure that federal contracts over $25,000 are competitively bid."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Blueprint for Change" dated 10/09/08.
Source: https://my.ofa.us/page/-/Action%20Center/ObamaBlueprintForChange.pdf
Status:On 11/30/09, the GAO published a report revealing that the Small Business Administration issued 68% of its stimulus bill contracts non-competitively, and NASA and HUD issued 37% and 35% of their stimulus contracts this way respectively.

In addition, the GAO cited 5 other agencies for disregarding President Obama's promise by awarding the following percentages of its contracts non-competitively: Transportation (22%), EPA (24%), Homeland Security (25%), Commerce (29%) and Agriculture (30%).

On 01/31/10, Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley informed Fox News that a contract worth more than $24.6 million had been awarded non-competitively by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to Checchi and Company Consulting, a Washington, D.C.-based firm owned by economist and Democratic Party donor Vincent Checchi. This particular contract was terminated as a result of protests from at least one potential bidder. The point of this example is that no-bid contracts continued to be awarded early in the Obama Administration and were only reversed if discovered and protested.

There are circumstances when contracts exceeding $25K can be awarded on a non-competitive bid basis. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) is an example where a purchaser country can certify to the Department of Defense that it desires to acquire a specific end-item or system from a specific Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) on a designated sole source basis. If justified for reasons such as equipment standardization or interoperability purposes, such sole source designation requests are usually honored and contracts are awarded on a no-bid basis.

This promise was not fulfilled.
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TE-15
The Promise: "...is committed to returning earmarks to less than $7.8 billion a year, the level they were at before 1994, when the Republicans took control of Congress..."
When/Where: Obama/Biden Plan: "The Change We Need in Washington," dated 09/22/08.
Source: http://obama.3cdn.net/0080cc578614b42284_2a0mvyxpz.pdf
Status:The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 alone reportedly contained over 9,000 earmarks valued at over $5B. Altogether, President Obama signed $16.5B of appropriations earmarks (11,124 line items) into law during CY2009.

The total U.S. Government FY2010 budget signed into law by President Obama contained over $15.9B in earmarks (over 9,000 line items).

The FY2011 $1.1T omnibus spending bill released on 12/14/10 included approximately 6,750 earmarks worth about $8.3B for specific Senate and House member pet projects and programs.

Until the FY2012 earmark moratorium, earmarks were a popular way for congressional members to placate their constituents back home, and President Obama acquiesced to exceeding the promised $7.8B annual limit. Subsequent to FY2012, earmarks continued to exceed $7.8B per year under different names such as "amendments" or "congressionally directed spending."

This promise was not fulfilled.
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TE-16
The Promise: "...will ensure that any tax breaks for corporate recipients - or tax earmarks - are also publicly available on the Internet in an easily searchable format."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan for America entitled: "Blueprint for Change" dated 10/09/08.
Source: https://my.ofa.us/page/-/Action%20Center/ObamaBlueprintForChange.pdf
Status:On 05/11/10, Senator Thomas Coburn (R-OK) introduced the Earmark Transparency Act (S. 3335) to establish a unified and searchable database on a public website as called for by President Obama during his 2010 State of the Union Address. On the same date, Congressman Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced a similar bill (H.R. 5258). No further action was taken on either proposed legislation and they expired with the 111th Congress at the end of CY2010.

During the 112th Congress, the "Transparency in Government Act of 2011" (H.R. 2340) was introduced by Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) on 06/23/11. While this bill would have responded 100% to the requirements of this promise, no action was taken on it and it expired with the 112th Congress at the end of CY2012.

Until FY2010, the excellent Office of Management and Budget (OMB) website at "http://earmarks.omb.gov/earmarks-public" (no longer available) reflected earmark data for the period FY2005-FY2010. However, this database did not specifically address tax breaks accorded to corporate recipients of government funds, although it would have been relatively easy to add this data in an already-established website.

This promise was not fulfilled.
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TE-17
The Promise: "...would amend Executive Order 12866 to ensure that communications about regulatory policymaking between persons outside government and all White House staff are disclosed to the public."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan for America entitled: "Blueprint for Change" dated 10/09/08.
Source: https://my.ofa.us/page/-/Action%20Center/ObamaBlueprintForChange.pdf
Status:Executive Order 12866 (as amended) was supplemented by President Obama's 01/18/11 signature of Executive Order 13563 entitled "Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review."

Unfortunately, Executive Order 13563 did not address the issue of disclosure to the public of regulatory policymaking between non-government persons and "all White House staff."

The Senate confirmed Cass Sunstein to lead the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs on 09/10/09 in a 63-35 vote. Just five days later, the White House started to make its visitor list available to the public. A positive step -- but far from the level of disclosure at the heart of this promise.

In 12/09, Mr. Sunstein was directed to initiate a review of the White House's rules on public disclosures and transparency, resulting in the 09/20/11 release of the "Open Government Partnership - National Action Plan for the United States of America."

On 12/08/09, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued its "Open Government Directive". This directive offered excellent direction to "executive departments and agencies", requiring each such department or agency to develop its "Open Government Plan" and post it on its "Open Government Webpage".

Communications between outsiders and White House staff about regulatory policymaking were not, as of end-CY2016, effectively addressed anywhere. The new "data.gov" website contained information on White House visitors, but did not address in any meaningful detail the influence those visitors may have had on regulatory policymaking.

White House principals and staffers reportedly routinely circumvented procedures. For example, the New York Times reported in 06/11 that hundreds of meetings between liberal political activists, lobbyists, and White House officials went unreported in White House visitor logs because the groups took their business off-site to coffee shops near the White House to discuss President Obama's agenda. In one instance, introductions to the chief executive of a major foreign corporation were reportedly made on a White House side lawn to avoid entering that visitor's name in the official White House visitor registry.

This promise was not fulfilled.
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TE-18
The Promise: "...will insulate the Director of National Intelligence from political pressure by giving the DNI a fixed term, like the Chairman of the Federal Reserve...will seek consistency and integrity at the top of our intelligence community -- not just a political ally."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan for America entitled: "Blueprint for Change" dated 10/09/08.
Source: https://my.ofa.us/page/-/Action%20Center/ObamaBlueprintForChange.pdf
Status:President Obama's nominee as Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Admiral (Ret.) Dennis C. Blair, was sworn in as DNI on 01/29/09. No term limit was attached to his appointment. Blair resigned from this post on 05/20/10.

Retired Air Force Lieutenant General James Clapper was confirmed by the Senate as Blair's successor on 08/05/10. There was no term limit attached to this appointment.

This promise was not fulfilled.
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TE-19
The Promise: "...will require his appointees who lead the executive branch departments and rulemaking agencies to conduct the significant business of the agency in public, so that any citizen can watch these debates in person or on the Internet."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Blueprint for Change" dated 10/09/08.
Source: https://my.ofa.us/page/-/Action%20Center/ObamaBlueprintForChange.pdf
Status:As of end-CY2016, neither the heads of executive branch departments nor the heads of rulemaking agencies (with very few and rare exceptions) conducted their "significant" business in public forums. They released the results of that business on a strict "need to know" basis only.

This promise was not fulfilled.
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TE-20
The Promise: "...will bring democracy and policy directly to the people by requiring his Cabinet officials to have periodic national broadband townhall meetings to discuss issues before their agencies."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "Blueprint for Change" dated 10/09/08.
Source: https://my.ofa.us/page/-/Action%20Center/ObamaBlueprintForChange.pdf
Status:As of end-CY2016, not all Cabinet officials were known to have conducted "periodic national broadband townhall meetings" to discuss their agencies' affairs.

Aside from select domestic/local or foreign venues, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Transportation, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General were not known to have conducted "periodic national broadband townhall meetings" so that the American people could get a sense of what was going on in their organizations. Q&A's fielded by department underlings don't count. President Obama promised Cabinet member interface.

Appearing on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" on 10/27/10, President Obama acknowledged that during his first two years in office, "we have done things that some folks don't even know about." The American taxpayer understands that in the interest of national security, some issues simply cannot be discussed in open forums. But President Obama's admission did not contain a national security caveat. Rather, he told the American people that his Administration was not being as forthcoming with them as he promised it would be.

The Secretaries of Defense, Education, State, Interior, Energy, Commerce and several others conducted infrequent town hall meetings. President Obama would have done well to define the word 'periodic.' However, this promise, as interpreted by the 'man/woman on the street,' applied to all Cabinet members and the frequency of broadband-based townhall meetings was meant to be at least once or twice each year.

The White House web site "Open for Questions" did not count as a vehicle for promise fulfillment, as there was no assurance that a taxpayer would receive a response to questions submitted to the White House.

This promise was not fulfilled.
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TE-21
The Promise: "...will bring foreign policy decisions directly to the people by requiring his national security officials to have periodic national broadband town hall meetings to discuss foreign policy. They will personally deliver occasional fireside chats via webcast."
When/Where: Obama-Biden Plan: "To Secure America and Restore our Standing," undated.
Source: http://www.acronym.org.uk/old/proliferation-challenges/regional-challenges/iran/barack-obama-and-joe-biden-us-foreign-policy-issues-october-2008?page=show
Status:This promise is not to be confused with Promise Number TE-20, which was aimed at town hall meetings to be conducted by members of President Obama's Cabinet.

As of end-CY2016, there had been no such "periodic national broadband town hall meetings" led by his national security officials (i.e. Director of CIA, NSA, National Intelligence, etc.) or, in the case of foreign policy decisions, by the Secretary of State.

This promise was not fulfilled.
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