Feb 4, 2021 - Politics & Policy

White House transparency plans come into focus

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is seen approaching the Briefing Room lectern on Wednesday.

Jen Psaki arrives in the press briefing room Wednesday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Biden White House's ethics and transparency plans are coming into focus, with details unveiled Wednesday about the release of staffers' personal financial information and records of White House visitors.

Why it matters: The administration's disclosure efforts, while preliminary, represent a substantial improvement from those of his predecessor. Nonetheless, good-government advocates are urging the administration to do even more.

What's new: The White House is aiming to begin releasing staffers' personal financial disclosure forms on March 19, a White House spokesperson tells Axios. That's about two weeks earlier than the Trump administration.

  • The public will be able to fill out an online form for a specific staffer's financial information. The forms will contain information such as staffers' assets, income, debts and recent financial transactions.
  • The Trump White House used a similar process, though the requests often went completely unanswered during its final months.

Press secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters the White House plans to release visitor logs each quarter.

  • That's a return to a practice that began in the Obama administration.
  • The Trump White House stopped releasing the logs, which indicate who is meeting with the president and top administration officials, citing "grave national security risks and privacy concerns."

Between the lines: Biden ran on pledges to restore accountability to the White House. Within days of taking office, he implemented an ethics pledge for all incoming administration officials that drew praise from good-government groups.

  • He's also faced questions about problematic efforts to trade on his family name. Biden's brother has played up his relationship with the new president in efforts to promote his law firm.
  • Biden sought to tamp down those questions in an interview with People magazine this week. "No one in our family and extended family is going to be involved in any government undertaking or foreign policy," he said.
  • The niece of Vice President Kamala Harris also has faced questions about profiting from her connection.

The bottom line: Ethics experts have praised Biden's early transparency measures, yet some say they don't go far enough.

  • Walt Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics, urged Biden to "commit to creating an online database for all legally operative ethics records," a step that would dramatically enhance the public availability of those records.
  • "After what this country went through with [President] Trump," Shaub wrote on Twitter, "they surely can see that we need transparency."
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