WH releases all visitor logs for first time ever

In an executive order issued Tuesday, President Barack Obama ended a Bush-era policy that allowed the head of the US's intelligence agencies to have the final word on the declassification of documents.

The order also establishes a National Declassification Center whose job it will be to streamline the process of declassifying documents -- an important change to the US's process of freeing up information, given that there is a backlog of more than 400 million documents stretching back all the way to World War II, according to the White House.

The order establishes for the first time that "no records may remain classified indefinitely," explained William H. Leary, the National Security Council's director of records and access management, in a posting at the White House blog.

"President Obama’s new Order strikes a careful balance between protecting essential secrets and ensuring the release of once sensitive information to the public as quickly and as fully as possible," Leary wrote.

The Washington Post reports:

The order comes as part of Obama's promise to push government to err on the side of disclosure as it tackles the need to keep certain information from the public.

As a candidate, Obama promised to run the most open and transparent administration ever. He has released White House visitor log data for the first time, though only months after the visits. But his decision not to release some information about detainee torture and his acceptance of closed-door negotiations on the health care bill in Congress have brought criticism from good-government groups.

Steven Aftergood, the Federation of American Scientists' director of the Project on Government Secrecy, told the New York Times that Obama's order was "a major step forward" and that "there are some real innovations here." But he cautioned that the changes will only result in a more open US government if federal agencies implement the new policy properly.


And in another sign that President Obama may be making good on his promises of running a more open government, the White House released the names of 25,000 recent visitors to the White House, the first of a promised monthly release of visitor logs under the administration's new voluntary disclosure policy.

"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," write Norm Eisen, the presidential adviser on governmental ethics, at the White House blog. "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."

Added Eisen: "We will do this on a monthly basis, with the records for the full month of October being posted in 30 days."

As TalkingPointsMemo's Christina Bellantoni notes, the White House had previously released several sets of visitor logs, in response to media requests and a freedom-of-information lawsuit.