The Columbia Journalism Review writes that two of Obama’s first 5 executive orders were for a more open government.
In the past eight years, Bush’s staff has been told to search for any reason to withhold information (even technical problems with the requests). Obama immediately changed that with an order saying to release information unless you are required not to by law.
Both the Clinton and Bush executive branch FOIA implementation instructions were issued by their attorneys general via memos, not by a Presidential executive order or directive. Alas, pending Eric Holder’s confirmation, America is running without an appointed attorney general, and that absence would be enough to explain why Obama made the FOIA change via an executive order.
But it’s worth remembering that an executive order or directive is quite a different thing, both in force of law and in symbolic importance, than a memo from a cabinet official. “An executive order is much stronger medicine. It is a directive from the president to government to do the following unless you’re otherwise prohibited by law,” says David Vladeck, a law professor at Georgetown who has litigated many FOIA cases, and who says he has discussed the administration’s FOIA plans with members of the transition.