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Obama Administration Announces 'New Openness' to Closed Pool of Reporters

3:41 PM, Jan 21, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Let's just say President Obama's sense of irony is not nearly as well-developed as his sense of self-confidence:

President Barack Obama on Wednesday signed a sweeping set of executive orders and directives he said would usher in "a new era of openness," freezing the salaries of senior aides and taking a number of steps to reduce the role of lobbyists in his administration.

Appearing at the White House, Obama announced a ban on gifts to members of the administration and said those who serve under him will be barred from "attempting to influence your colleagues" for two years after leaving. Lobbyists who take jobs in the administration will not be able to work on the areas in which they lobbied or for the agency they lobbied for the past two years, and after leaving government will be prevented from lobbying the administration for as long as Obama remains president.

Administration officials will also be required to receive a new "ethics briefing" - starting with Obama, who received the briefing last week...

The event announcing the new openness was closed to all reporters except the handful who are in the White House pool. The event was televised, though.

It's reminiscent of the lesson Chicago columnist Carol Marin has learned since Obama took the reins, his 2007 promise to "not just call on my four favorite reporters" notwithstanding:

The press corps, most of us, don't even bother raising our hands any more to ask questions because Obama always has before him a list of correspondents who've been advised they will be called upon that day.

But Obama's treatment of the press aside, which hasn't been as reciprocally slobbering as the press corps would like, what of the new transparency?

He's been steadily backing away from his campaign promises that lobbyists "won't find a job in my White House" and amending his early 2008 promise to "tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over." It's a far cry from the days when he was regaling the crowds at Daily Kos convention by slamming Hillary Clinton for insinuating that lobbyists are people, too.

Today's promise to keep lobbyists working for him from working in the areas for which they lobbied must be an unsatisfying culmination for those hoping for a lobbyist-free administration, especially given that Obama's not even delivering that.

His Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services William Corr lobbied on health issues before he got the slot in the Obama administration:

William Corr, whose name Mr. Obama put forward this morning to be deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, was, until September 2008, a federal lobbyist with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, lobbying Congress unsuccessfully to require the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco.

The group also supports higher cigarette taxes, smoke-free workplaces, and other initiatives opposed by the tobacco industry.

Obama's Deputy Secretary of Defense was most recently a, wait for it, defense lobbyist:

President-elect Barack Obama, who campaigned on lessening the influence of lobbyists in government, has chosen a defense expert who is currently a vice president and lobbyist for one of the country's biggest defense contractors to be his deputy secretary of defense...

Lynn is currently a senior vice president at Raytheon, which has billions of dollars in Defense Department contracts and is the maker of the Army's Patriot Missile system and the Tomahawk missile used by the Navy. The company is also developing a global positioning satellite communication system with the Air Force.

As deputy secretary, Lynn would be involved in the process of budgeting and acquisitions, in addition to running the day-to-day operations of the Defense Department.