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First Government Transparency Board Meeting Happens Behind Closed Doors

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, July 28 2011

A new government entity responsible for ushering in a new era of transparency and accountability in federal spending will be conducting its meetings behind closed doors.

The White House announced in a press release today that the Government Accountability and Transparency Board, an entity summoned into being through executive order that is supposed to assume the Recovery Board's mantle of reducing government waste and increasing transparency, had held its first meeting. But the board isn't obliged to conduct its business in public, an administration spokesman wrote in an email.

"The meetings of the Government Accountability and Transparency Board are not required to be open to the public under the Government in the Sunshine Act," Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board communications director Edward Pound told me via email, citing chapter and verse of a U.S. Court of Appeals case to prove his point.

Guess that means no live-streamed meetings, either — not that anyone would watch.

Willed into existence through President Barack Obama's pen on the same day last month that House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced legislation that would mandate similar reforms to how the government spends and reports that spending, the board will be led by current Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board Chairman Earl Devaney. It includes Office of Management and Budget Controller Daniel I. Werfel and inspectors general, undersecretaries and assistant secretaries from a variety of departments, including the Treasury Department's Neal S. Wolin.

In a nod to transparency, though, one of the board's first acts was to open up its proceedings at least a little.

"The Government Accountability and Transparency Board met this morning," Pound told me, "and agreed that minutes of its meetings will be posted on a new website landing page being created by the Recovery Board."

All the plans that have been proposed — this board, a very similar entity that the DATA Act would create, and the specific vision of Devaney himself for a successor to the Recovery Board — promise some sort of new system for electronic reporting and tracking of federal spending. The devil, however, is in the details; late last month, former Deputy US Chief Technology Officer for Open Government Beth Noveck co-authored her take on needed improvements to the DATA Act and any executive branch entity responsible for enhancing government transparency.