The Obama administration is the most transparent, argued White House press secretary Jay Carney before an audience of George Washington University students Thursday. Carney played the I-used-to-be-a-reporter card, explaining that he knew a thing or two about how previous administrations worked. “There has never been a more transparent administration,” he said of the current one.
His primary example for why this is was that the Obama White House releases its WAVES records – the Worker and Visitor Entry System records – which track who comes in and out of the White House.
“That doesn’t mean it’s perfectly transparent,” Carney said. “And also, it creates headaches for us."
Carney explained that the records don’t give a complete picture of who actually comes into the White House, especially when it comes to people working within the administration. Thus the WAVES records often generate “ridiculous stories” and lead to “challenges.”
“For example, ‘Well, the WAVES records show that Hillary Clinton was only in the White House five times, whereas secretary so-and-so was there this many times,’” Carney said. “Well, people like Hillary Clinton and most cabinet secretaries literally get waved in by the Secret Service; they are not entered into the logs.”
Carney also failed to mention that the White House didn’t give up this information from the get-go.
Early on, the Obama administration was criticized for following in the footsteps of former President George W. Bush by saying these records belonged to the White House and not an agency, meaning they were not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
The left-leaning MSNBC, along with the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, both had their requests for the visitors lists rebuffed by the Secret Service and made a stink about it. CREW even filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service. But in September 2009, CREW settled the lawsuit in conjunction with the White House making the change in policy. “Because visitor records will now be available online, CREW dismissed its lawsuits,” said CREW’s Executive Director Melanie Sloan in a statement at the time.
But the White House’s voluntary disclosure policy didn’t go far enough, according to some. The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch is still involved in a lawsuit over a full release of visitor logs and getting them categorized as documents subject to FOIA. “We literally are still exchanging briefs in court over these White House visitor logs,” explained Chris Farrell, Judicial Watch’s director of research.
Echoing Carney, but with different reason, Farrell alleged that the records aren't complete. “The White House visitor records on their website are not complete or accurate,” Farrell said. “It only lists those people the administration wants you to know about.”