White House to list visitors

Obama ends aged practice

The Associated PressSeptember 5, 2009 

— President Barack Obama said Friday that his administration will start releasing the names of people who visit the White House, reversing a long-standing policy of both Democratic and Republican presidents.

The change, which could shed light on who influences White House decision-making, comes after a White House review of its disclosure policy and legal pressure from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Until now, the Obama administration had sided with the Bush administration's stand of refusing to release records, in contrast with Obama's pledge of transparency.

But Obama said Friday after the review was completed that "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," the president said.

No records will be released right away.

The policy covers visits starting Sept. 15, and each bunch of records will cover visits from the previous 90 to 120 days.

That means the first wave of records should be posted to the White House Web site about Dec. 31.

The White House said that each monthly release will include "tens of thousands of electronic records."

The public is expected to see the full name of visitors, whom they met with, when they entered and when they left.

Obama said the policy will apply to virtually every visitor who comes to the White House for "an appointment, a tour, or to conduct business."

Some names will be kept private, though. Those include people who are attending meetings of particular sensitivity, such as possible Supreme Court nominees, and those who identity cannot be disclosed because of what the White House called national security imperatives.

The White House will not release records related to "purely personal guests" of the president's family and the vice president's family.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has long sought public access to White House visitor logs, has dropped all pending litigation.

"The Obama administration has proven its pledge to usher in a new era of government transparency was more than just a campaign promise," said the group's executive director, Melanie Sloan. "The Bush administration fought tooth and nail to keep secret the identities of those who visited the White House."

Donna Leinwand, president of the National Press Club, applauded the move, saying that "although the president has limited the disclosures, it is a step toward more transparency in government and a reversal of this administration's previous policy. We hope in time that the administration will allow more timely and broader access."

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