President Obama promised during his campaign to “use cutting-edge technologies to create a new level of transparency, accountability, and participation for America’s citizens” and “to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens.” His new White House website has been live for two days now. From a design perspective, it resembles his campaign and transition sites. But it’s still a blank slate in terms of providing relevant and otherwise difficult to access information, or in allowing visitors to do much.
It’s early, of course. Still, I was surprised to see no photo or video of his second swearing-in, performed after Chief Justice John Roberts flubbed the constitutionally required version on Inauguration Day. (After all, there was no shortage of videography during the campaign: viewers spent 14 million hours watching 1,800 Obama-campaign-related videos, for a total of 50 million views.) And while Obama’s staff posted the text of his first two presidential orders–one involving the archiving of presidential records, the other restricting lobbyist activity–I found no background on what will be his most consequential order so far: that of closing Guantanamo and any remaining CIA prisons within a year. We can expect to see the text of this order, too, but presidential orders are already publicly available. If ever there were a topic that might benefit from some extra freedom-of-information sunshine from the White House, Gitmo would be it.
The White House site says that the posting of the presidential orders is “just the beginning of our efforts to provide a window for all Americans into the business of the government.” So maybe today’s home-page video links–to the inauguration events and to Obama’s preinaugural whistle-stop train ride–will be replaced by tomorrow’s never-before-seen videos of post-9/11 interrogations. We know that Obama’s people well understand the power of the Web. How they choose to use that power remains to be seen in his briefing room, in his blog, and by signing up for e-mail updates.