President Obama ordered earlier this year that in December the White House would -- for the first time in history -- begin posting White House visitor records as provided in our new voluntary disclosure policy. Today we are delivering on that commitment by posting more than 25,000 records created between Sept 16 and Sept 30. The volume is enormous because we are not just answering specific requests for records -- we are disclosing thousands of folks who come and go here daily. We will do this on a monthly basis, with the records for the full month of October being posted in 30 days.
This release represents a milestone in the President's commitment to change Washington. The President believes that this and our many other transparency initiatives promote accountability and keep American democracy vital.
We are excited about the visitor records policy not only because we are breaking new ground for this Administration but also because we are establishing a new standard for all future administrations. We know of no comparable initiative in the history of the White House. Indeed, previous Administrations fought for years to protect just a handful of records -- far less than we are putting out for any single day of the month.
Today’s release also includes visitor information for the Vice President and his staff at the White House Complex. Consistent with the voluntary disclosure policy, the Office of the Vice President is releasing the names and dates of visitors to the Vice President’s Residence for official events between Sept 16 and Sept 30, and the visitors to the Residence who appear on the daily schedules of the Vice President and Dr. Biden. At this time, it is not possible to release visitor information for the Vice President’s Residence in an identical format to the White House Complex because the Residence is not equipped with the WAVES system that is in place at the White House Complex. The Vice President’s staff is working with the Secret Service to upgrade the visitor records system at the Residence. When the electronic update is complete, visitor information for the White House Complex and the Residence will be released in a common format.
In addition, we are also today releasing close to 2,000 pre-Sept 16 records in response to specific requests. As part of our new initiative, we offered to look back at the records created before the announcement of the policy and answer specific requests for visitor records created earlier in the year. Today’s production of records is in response to nearly 700 requests from the public during the month of November. Those requests have yielded close to 2000 responsive records that span the time period between January 20, 2009 and September 15, 2009. All of these have been added to the online database of published visitor records in an accessible, searchable format for anyone to browse or download.
Today’s release builds upon the previous series of visitor record disclosures. In October the White House released close to 500 records in response to 110 requests that were received throughout September. In November, the White House released 1,600 records in response to nearly 300 individual requests received from the public in October. You can view them all here.
As you review this month’s release you will notice that the records presentation is slightly different. Thanks to many of your suggestions, we have made some improvements that will hopefully make this information easier to use. However, the raw data remains the same and you can access that information by downloading the csv file in full.
Today’s release is only one example of the many steps the President has taken to increase government transparency over the past year. This Administration’s concrete commitments to openness include issuing the Open Government Directive, putting up more government information than ever before on data.gov and recovery.gov, reforming the government’s FOIA processes, providing on-line access to White House staff financial reports and salaries, adopting a tough new state secrets policy, reversing an executive order that previously limited access to presidential records, and webcasting White House meetings and conferences. The release also compliments our new lobbying rules, which in addition to closing the revolving door for lobbyists who work in government have also emphasized expanding disclosure of lobbyist contacts with the government.
As before, some of the most frequent White House visitors in today's release are Administration officials who come to the White House as part of their daily work. For example, Matthew Yale and Doug O’Brien both visit the White House frequently as part of their agency responsibilities.
Also, as we have previously noted, sometimes rather than providing clear information, transparency can have confusing or amusing results. Given the significant number of visitors to the White House, many visitors share the same name. Today's release includes the names of some notable figures (for example, yet another William Ayers record appears in this disclosure). The well-known individual with that name has not visited the White House, but we have included the record of the individual that did.
Lastly, we are still processing a small set of the September records to ensure that their release will not compromise national security. We expect to conclude this review shortly and will release any additional records with next month’s posting.
Happy New Year!
Norm Eisen is Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform