Feb 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

White House urged to disclose virtual "visitors"

Illustration of a visitor sticker with a text cursor blinking.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Political transparency groups are asking the White House to disclose information about the people who participate in virtual White House meetings, according to a letter obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: President Biden has committed to releasing White House visitor logs on a quarterly basis. But good-government advocates say disclosure of in-person meetings isn't sufficient with COVID forcing so much remote work via teleconference.

What's happening: More than a dozen transparency groups plan to send a letter to White House counsel Dana Remus on Friday asking her to address that disclosure gap.

  • "As you know, government business does not stop during a pandemic, and the principle of transparency becomes more, not less, important during times of national crisis," the letter states, according to a copy shared with Axios on Thursday.
  • The letter asks the White House to disclose the names of participants in virtual White House meetings, their affiliations, the dates of the meetings, the staffers with whom they meet and a "general description" of the topic under discussion.
  • It also asks that such information, as well as the in-person visitor logs the White House has already pledged to release, "be made available online in a searchable, sortable, downloadable database."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last week: "At this point, there’s not a discussion of making virtual meetings a part of what’s released."

  • "We ask that the administration change course," the letter says, "and immediately begin preparing virtual visitor logs for public release."
  • The White House declined to comment on the letter.

It was crafted by the group Open the Government, which told Axios that 12 organizations have lent their names to the effort and more might sign on by Friday.

  • Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, also signed on in his personal capacity.

The bottom line: Absent disclosure of virtual meeting participants, there will be a gaping loophole in the Biden White House's self-imposed disclosure program, advocates say.

  • Those virtual meetings "shouldn't serve as an end-run around transparency," said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesperson for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — one of the letter's signatories.
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