This week, despite the weather, is Sunshine Week, an annual marking of the importance of public access to information. It emphasizes not just the media’s access, but the right of ordinary people to get the government information they want for purposes of scientific research or just plain curiosity, because they want to know what their government is doing.
It’s no surprise, as reported by the McClatchy Washington Bureau, that early indications are the Trump administration will be no friend to public access and openness. This, from a man who ran against the Washington establishment and implied that the government was up to all sorts of nefarious activity that presumably needed exposure.
It should not be shocking that given Donald Trump’s history of truth-telling, or the lack thereof, his administration is showing signs in its very earliest days of becoming one of the most secretive in history.
Consider: the log of visitors to the White House, the people’s house, will apparently no longer be maintained under the Trump administration. It provided an opportunity for people to see the comings and goings in their house, and might have offered insight as to whether certain people or organizations were gaining access for the purpose of shaping policy.
Trump’s people also have suspended a rule established by Obama that protected whistleblowers who worked for Department of Energy contractors. Rex Tillerson, the new secretary of state, has ended daily press briefings and, in a break from previous secretaries, will travel to Asia without news media on his plane.
For the public, the lesson in Sunshine Week is pretty simple, but profound: Beware the leader or agency in government that seeks to shield information that is clearly public information.
Never forget that such information belongs to the people, and accessibility to it shouldn’t depend on the philosophy of whatever individual or group is in charge on Pennsylvania Avenue. The concern is all the greater considering President Trump’s stance, for example, on his own tax returns, which he continues to shield despite historic precedent of openness set by his predecessors.
When public officials want to hide something, it tends to be because they have something to hide.