I’m still getting used to the rhythms of our new government — the pace of the first two weeks has been amazing. Not without stumbles, but I’m incredibly encouraged. In particular, I find that I follow and read Obama’s Executive Orders and Presidential Memoranda every day or two.

The fact that they’re available (and easy to find) along with a lot of other information on is fantastic and incredibly meaningful. But the content is also incredible so far, and in particular one specific memo titled “Freedom of Information Act“.

It is a beautiful and clear piece of writing, and states some incredibly important principles of operation and standards of behavior that I hope our agencies can live up to. The memo speaks for itself, so I’ll quote several passages at some length.

“A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.”

And the absolute most important line: “The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.”

This could not be clearer, and is a monumental step. And then he pushes everyone to go further than they’re required by law:

“All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government.  The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.”
Really, I couldn’t be prouder of our government for this, or more hopeful.


  1. Dear Jon,

    I’m using this comment form as a way to contact you regarding one of your articles – Firefox user statistics. I’m a doctoral student from NC State, working on open source software engineering. Please let me know if it is possible to get access to the statistics. I’m looking for monthly data or weekly (finer the granularity, the better).


  2. in addition to the shared message of “openness”, there is a striking parallel between and the mozilla manifesto. the manifesto states as a goal: speak to people whether or not they have a technical background.

    i have been pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of the Presidential memoranda. even the legal-oriented memo regarding the ‘Detention of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri’ was nearly void of legalese.

    the president is keeping his broader audience in mind, and the result appears to be clearer policy memos, which is helpful irrespective of whether you work at the White House.

  3. John, considering I have not been invited to TED2009 I hope you will invest time in Sean Gourleys talk on The Mathmatics of War. It sounds very interesting and I look forward to more insight as to the validity of the theory.