Obama's Whitehouse.gov: Frozen in time?

President Obama promised the most open and transparent administration in history. But his own White House Web site shows that it's not always easy to translate campaign promises into reality.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read

President Obama signed an order on Wednesday proclaiming that the entire federal government should be more open, transparent, and Internet-friendly. It said that agencies must "put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public."

That memorandum, along with a few other executive orders and statements from White House officials, were sent to reporters throughout the day. But in an ironic twist, the transparency and a slew of other first-day-in-office documents were still absent from the official Whitehouse.gov site as of Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.

caption: Whitehouse.gov, frozen in time since Tuesday?

The Web site still says: "The President has not yet issued any Executive Orders."

By comparison, the outgoing Bush administration was disciplined about updating Whitehouse.gov. As soon as Bush left the White House on Tuesday to go to the inauguration, a photo of himself and his wife appeared online.

Yet the text of Obama's inaugural address didn't appear for more than a day, even though news organizations posted it immediately. Still missing from Whitehouse.gov are an executive order relating to ethics, a memorandum about a staff pay freeze, and an Obama statement about meeting with the Iraqi ambassador.

Now, we've heard reports of confusion during the Obama press office's first full day on the job, with phones not working and computer passwords not assigned. And it's fair to say that the Bush administration's takeover of Whitehouse.gov was not exactly an unqualified success; it boasted broken links and, briefly, the phrase "Insert Something Meaningful Here."

But for a president who campaigned on on government openness and (unlike Bush) had almost three months to prepare, this state of affairs can't be entirely satisfying.

Update 5:40 pm PT: The White House Web site has been updated to include some, but not all, of the documents.

Update 5:50 pm PT: Whitehouse.gov includes some JavaScript tracking code that sends WebTrends--a private company that provides Web analytics--information about each visitor's computer and settings. This disclosure is not made public in Whitehouse.gov's privacy policy, and may violate a Clinton-era memorandum saying government Web sites should have "clear and conspicuous notice of any such tracking activities." The Bush administration got in trouble for a less intrusive use of WebTrends, which merely set a cookie instead of sending visitor information to a third party, according to an Associated Press article from 2005. A WebTrends spokesman declined to comment, referring us to the White House. We'll contact the White House and get back to you.