WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s announcement that it would end the Obama administration’s practice of routinely releasing White House visitor logs is a step backwards for government transparency and freedom of information, PEN America said today.

The decision, announced today by White House Communications Director Mike Dubke, reverses the practice put in place under President Obama to voluntarily release the names of many—though not all—White House visitors. Under this practice, the Obama White House released the names of some 6 million visitors, including lobbyists.

Under the change, Americans seeking information on who has met officials at the White House will have to go through the formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process. Requests under the FOIA Act can be denied under a variety of exceptions, and legal actions to have such requests approved can often take up to several years. 

 “The left and right certainly had concerns with Obama-era secrecy, but the White House visitor log disclosure was an important source of information about who had the ear of the most powerful institution in the world,” said Gabe Rottman, PEN America’s Washington director.  “Now, in the late afternoon on a Good Friday, we hear that even that small sliver of sunlight is going dark.”

“Assurances by White House communications officials that journalists will have adequate access to continue their traditional role as a window into the government ring hollow,” Rottman continued.  “This is especially discouraging after blatant moves to blacklist critical outlets and deny them access to key briefings.”

PEN America, the free expression advocacy group, has worked to address the issue of freedom of information and government transparency. This work includes the November 2015 report, “Secret Sources”, on whistleblowing within the intelligence community.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Sarah Edkins, Director of Communications: sedkins@pen.org, +1.646.779.4830