White House Blog
January 20, 2009


With respect to my complaint about the George Bush White House Blog, check out the new whitehouse.gov. Looks like Team Obama has already got a better blog in place.

EDIT: Obama’s inauguration speech, annotated.

Your Seat at the Table
December 27, 2008

I spent some time looking through the Your Seat At the Table feature at the Obama transition team’s website. YSAT is a document dump where the transition team releases copies of every letter or policy proposal sent to them by third parties during the transition. There are currently over 4000 documents here, from an open letter from the Mayor of Charleston to recommendations from the Coalition for Space Exploration to a letter from the American Bar Association.

My first impression when I saw this document dump was that it amounted to a nice symbolic gesture towards transparency, but nothing more. It’s good that the transition team realizes that special interests need to face more public scrutiny, since the government is ultimately supposed to be accountable to the public and not to the special interests. So this is a good symbolic break from the practices of the Bush Administration. But of course, nobody from the public is actually going to read through thousands boring policy papers, so there won’t be any actual oversight here, it’s just a nice idea.

Then I looked at the comment section, and felt some of that elusive “hope” that’s going around nowadays. It turns out that people are reading these papers, and commenting on them. I think the average document has about ten comments, ranging up to near 100 for contentious issues like health care. And the comments are generally pretty worthwhile.

Civic engagement! It’s wonderful to see! This is just some random backwater on the Obama team’s website, but it gives me hope for our country. My only suggestion would be to require the organizations that submit the documents to respond to the commenters. I recall seeing a few instances of this happening, but there’s no reason why everyone who submits a policy paper to the transition team shouldn’t have to discuss it with the people who elected the team as well.