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President Obama came into office promising the most open White House in American history. He went back on that promise almost immediately, refusing to cooperate with oversight organizations and stonewalling the press. Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary from 2011 to 2014, dodged questions nearly 10 thousand times during his tenure. Brianna Keilar, a CNN reporter, as said of the White House that “anyone here can tell there’s less access than under the Bush administration.” When even Obama’s fawning press corps is fed up, you know something is going on.
This week, Obama’s lack of transparency received some of its most vocal criticism to date. In an open letter to congressional leaders, 47 of the government’s 73 inspectors-general (independent watchdogs) stated that they were unable to effectively perform their duties due to obstructive behavior and lack of cooperation in many federal agencies. Agencies from the EPA to the Peace Corps have dragged their feet or been unwilling to comply with requests for documents, claiming the contents of documents to be “privileged.” This has resulted in frustration among the independent watchdogs, which have been prevented from fulfilling their legally mandated duty.
The letter stated:
“Agency actions that limit, condition, or delay access thus have profoundly negative consequences for our work: they make us less effective, encourage other agencies to take similar actions in the future, and erode the morale of the dedicated professionals that make up our staffs.”
This sordid tale is just the latest chapter in the story of the Obama administration’s contempt for the rules that circumscribe and constrain executive power. It seems to be the chief belief of Obama that he and his people have all the answers and the need to compromise with Congress or to comply with laws and regulations are simply a nuisance to be gotten around. It is that attitude and the dangerous behavior that grows out of it that has made the Obama administration so much more onerous than past administrations.
It is that attitude and the above-the-law behavior springing from it that Obama’s critics are concerned about. It is not a matter of the mere number of executive orders he issues (as much as the left would like to conflate the exercise of executive power with quantity of executive orders), nor even what the orders he does issue entail. It is a matter of the broader application of contempt for the process of government and government oversight that has made Obama’s presidency so caustic to the republican traditions of the United States.
The open letter from the inspectors-general is a heartening development. It shows that, despite the administration’s obfuscating and impeding, the watchdogs still have some bite. It is high time Obama and his cronies were brought to heel.