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Obama Accepts Transparency Award In Private

By ERICA WERNER   03/31/11 04:55 PM ET EDT  AP

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama accepted an award for making the government more open and transparent – presented to him behind closed doors with no media coverage or public access allowed.

The discrepancy between the honor and the circumstances under which it was delivered bothered open-government advocates in attendance, they said Thursday. They were even more perturbed when they discovered later that the meeting hadn't even been listed on Obama's public schedule, so there was no way for anyone to know about it.

"To have such a meeting not be transparent is the height of irony. How absurd can that be?" said one participant, Gary Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, which keeps tabs on the White House Office of Management and Budget.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that, "Given the number of pressing items on the president's agenda, the White House didn't carve out time for a public event on the president's schedule for the sole purpose of accepting an award from journalists praising his commitment to government transparency."

The award was given by Bass's group and several others Monday to recognize Obama's work toward government openness and encourage him to do more.

Obama took office promising the most open and transparent administration in history, and advocates have been encouraged by steps he's taken including releasing White House visitor logs. They say more needs to be done in getting agencies to respond more thoroughly to public records requests, among other things.

Monday's meeting was rescheduled from one set for March 16, which is National Freedom of Information Day. On that day the meeting was listed on the president's public schedule, but it was canceled at the last minute.

Bass said he'd been assured that Monday's meeting would be open to the media and didn't learn it wouldn't be until arriving at the White House.

Nonetheless he and other advocates were pleased with how the 20-minute discussion went, saying Obama expressed support for greater transparency and backed legislation to protect reporters' confidential sources.

A couple of days later they learned from reporters that the meeting had been omitted from Obama's public schedule altogether.

"I think the action by the White House has taken a meeting where the storyline could have been how to strengthen disclosure, and it's become a storyline about how the meeting is a secret meeting," Bass said.

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    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/georgewashington">1st President</a> of the United States (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

  • Thomas Jefferson (1801-09)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/thomasjefferson">3rd President</a> of the United States (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • James Madison (1809-17)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/jamesmadison">4th President</a> of the United States (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)

  • James Monroe (1817-25)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/jamesmonroe">5th President</a> of the United States (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Andrew Jackson (1829-37)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/andrewjackson">7th President </a>of the United States (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Abraham Lincoln (1861-65)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/abrahamlincoln">16th President </a>of the United States -- Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, after being inaugurated second term. (Photo by Alexander Gardner/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) <em><strong>Correction:</strong> A previous version of this text misstated the amount of time Lincoln had served during his second term before his assassination.</em>

  • Ulysses S. Grant (1869-77)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/ulyssessgrant">18th President</a> of the United States (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Grover Cleveland (1885-89, 1893-97)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/grovercleveland22">22nd</a> and <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/grovercleveland24">24th President</a> of the United States (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)

  • William McKinley (1897-1901)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/williammckinley">25th President</a> of the United States -- McKinley was elected to a second term, but it came to a tragic end when he was assassinated in September 1901. (Courtesy of the National Archives/Newsmakers)

  • Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/theodoreroosevelt">26th President</a> of the United States -- After McKinley's assassination, Roosevelt completed that term and was then elected to his own term. (Photo by George C. Beresford/Beresford/Getty Images)

  • Woodrow Wilson (1913-21)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/woodrowwilson">28th President</a> of the United States (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Calvin Coolidge (1923-29)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/calvincoolidge">30th President</a> of the United States -- After President <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/warrenharding">Warren G. Harding</a> died of a heart attack in August 1923, Coolidge completed that term and then earned a term of his own. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/franklindroosevelt">32nd President</a> of the United States (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • Harry Truman (1945-53)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/harrystruman">33rd President</a> of the United States -- after <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/franklindroosevelt">FDR died</a> in April 1945 of a cerebral hemorrage, Truman completed that term, and was then elected to an additional term. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-61)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/dwightdeisenhower">34th President</a> of the United States (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/lyndonbjohnson">36th President</a> of the United States -- after John F. Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, then-vice president Johnson took over. He completed Kennedy's term and was then elected to one term of his own. (AFP/Getty Images)

  • Richard Nixon (1969-74)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/richardnixon">37th President </a>of the United States -- Nixon was elected to a second term, but resigned in August 1974 over the Watergate scandal. (AFP/Getty Images) <em><strong>Correction:</strong> A previous version of this slide incorrectly listed Nixon as the 25th President of the United States.

  • Ronald Reagan (1981-89)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/ronaldreagan">40th President</a> of the United States (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Bill Clinton (1993-2001)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/williamjclinton">42nd President</a> of the United States (LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • George W. Bush (2001-09)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/georgewbush">43rd President</a> of the United States (SCOTT OLSON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Barack Obama (2009-Present)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/barackobama">44th President</a> of the United States (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

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