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Open Government Partnership Launches With the Sausage-Making On Display, On Background

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, September 20 2011

The transcript of yesterday's State Department briefing on the rollout of today's launch of the international Open Government Partnership makes for entertaining reading, as the two officials explaining the genesis of the effort insisted on being identified solely as "Senior Administration Official One" and "Senior Administration Official Two." Not only did the officials not appear to know the URL of the OGP website the contorted explanations of the also unnamed Moderator as to why an initiative that is all about transparency can't be transparent are truly precious:

MODERATOR: Can we get the address for the website, first so that everybody has it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yes. We can. It is being launched tomorrow and therefore does not roll off the tongue. I think it is – I shouldn’t --

MODERATOR: Okay. We’re going to find it before this briefing is over. But (inaudible) with questions --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) why – has it struck anyone as odd to a briefing about open government and transparency on background?

QUESTION: Why is that necessary?

MODERATOR: There will be another briefing at – are you doing another briefing afterwards that’s on the record? I think you are. No? No. I think not.

QUESTION: Just so you understand this, we have to explain why officials are speaking anonymously. And if anyone is going to write – at least I do, and I think others do as well. But to write a story talking about U.S. officials anonymously plugging an Obama initiative for open government just – it makes – I’m sorry. It just makes --

MODERATOR: Because the event is happening tomorrow. The President will be on the record with his counterparts tomorrow. This is a preview, and it’s a preview by senior Administration officials below the level of the President. So the President will speak on the record tomorrow, but this is a preview.

QUESTION: But how does that advance the very goals you’re discussing, which are transparency and accountability. The two people who have spoken to us are not identified, so there’s no transparency about who they are. And because they speak under a cloak of anonymity, there is no particular accountability of what they’ve said. I mean, I cannot believe that you – this didn’t occur to anybody, and I don’t think the fact that the President’s going to announce it tomorrow is a very persuasive argument for not disclosing who you are.

MODERATOR: We are seeking to be transparent about what’s going to happen tomorrow. If you’d prefer us not to do that, then we don’t need to do that. But our thought was that it was better to give you a preview without preempting our President, and that’s what we’re endeavoring to do.