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Obama promises transparency and rule of law

Lalit K Jha in Washington | January 22, 2009 13:40 IST

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Stating that transparency and rule of law will be the touchstone of his administration, US President Barack Hussein Obama, on his first day in office, issued a series of executive orders to this effect including a freeze on the salary of senior White House staff.
 
Obama, who announced the moves while attending a function in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to swear
in his staff, said the steps marks the beginning of a new era of openness in America.
 
The pay freeze would hold salaries for the White House employees who make more than US $ 100,000 a year.
 
The White House staff would also have to under an ethics briefing, which he himself did last week.
 
Obama also opened the doors of White House for common people. He and the First Lady Michelle Obama [Images] themselves welcomed the first few visitors to White House on Wednesday afternoon.
 
All this, Obama said, would help in achieving his promise of change and promote his vision of "a government that
truly is of, and by, the American people."
 
He announced these measures in his first address to the senior White House staff, who were administered an oath in
this regard by Vice President Joe Biden.
 
"These steps are aimed at establishing firm rules of the road for my administration and all who serve in it and to help restore that faith in government without which we cannot deliver the changes we were sent here to make, from rebuilding our economy and ensuring that anyone who's willing to work can find a well-paying job, to protecting and defending the United States and promoting peace and security," Obama said.

"However long we are keepers of the public trust, we should never forget that we are here as public servants, and
public service is a privilege. It's not about advantaging yourself. It's not about advancing your friends or your
corporate clients. It's not about advancing an ideological agenda or the special interests of any organization," Obama said.
 
Referring to his speeches made during the election days, Obama said: "We need to make the White House the
people's house, and we need to close the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely and lets them use their time in public service as a way to promote their own interests over the interests of the American people when they leave."
 
Any former lobbyist working in his administration, the individual would not be able to work on matters or in the
agencies where he lobbied during the past two years and if they leave his administration they would not be able to lobby in his administration as long as he is President, Obama said.
 
Obama said the way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government
accountable is to make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they're being made, and whether their interests are being well served.
 
He also issued fresh directive on how to interpret the Freedom of Information Act as a result the officials and
agencies would have to lean toward making information public instead of coming up with legal justification for withholding it.
 
"The Freedom of Information Act is perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent, and of holding it accountable," he added.

"The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people,
then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that
this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known," Obama asserted.
 
"Going forward, any time the American people want to know something that I or a former president wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the attorney general and the White House counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law," he said. 

"Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will be beheld -- withheld because a separate authority
believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution," Obama said.
 
"Let me say it as simply as I can. Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency," Obama said

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