Reversing course, White House will release visitor logs

The records will be available to the public for the first time in history. The change came as a result of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits filed by a watchdog group.

By , Staff writer

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    In this April 22 photo, the White House, Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial are seen in Washington.
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The Obama administration has made good on a central piece of its campaign pledge to heighten government transparency: It has agreed, after a nudge from lawsuits, to release logs of White House visitors.

“For the first time in history, records of White House visitors will be made available to the public on an ongoing basis,” said President Obama in a statement Friday. “We will achieve our goal of making this administration the most open and transparent administration in history not only by opening the doors of the White House to more Americans, but by shining a light on the business conducted inside. Americans have a right to know whose voices are being heard in the policymaking process.”

Traditionally, the White House has kept visitor logs private, arguing that the administration should be able to seek policy advice outside the glare of public scrutiny. During the Bush administration, advocacy groups sought to learn whom Vice President Dick Cheney was meeting with on energy policy. In the Clinton years, the identity of visitors on health policy was kept secret, despite efforts to release records.

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The policy change came as a result of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits filed by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Under President Bush, CREW sought records of visits by Christian conservative leaders and a lobbyist who was accused of selling access to White House officials in exchange for contributions to the Bush presidential library. After Mr. Obama took office, CREW sued for records of White House visits by healthcare and coal executives.

Under the policy, which takes effect Sept. 15, electronic visitor logs will be posted online three to four months after a visit takes place. But there will be exceptions: Visits related to national security or those the White House calls “necessarily confidential” – such as potential Supreme Court nominees – will remain secret.

Visits of a purely personal nature, such as those to the Obamas' children, will also not be posted.

The Obama administration announced its decision after a lengthy legal review.

CREW executive director Melanie Sloan praised the White House.

“The Obama administration will have the most open White House in history,” Ms. Sloan said in a statement. “Providing public access to visitor records is an important step in restoring transparency and accountability to government.”

The Obama administration came under fire for another move toward transparency, when it released memos detailing treatment of detained terror suspects. But it is refusing to release photographs depicting abuse of detainees, arguing that such a move would harm morale in the military.

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