PRESS RELEASE from THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
January 21, 2009
THE PRESIDENT IN WELCOMING SENIOR STAFF AND CABINET SECRETARIES
TO THE WHITE HOUSE
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
1:18 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody.
Please be seated. Still getting used to that whole thing.
(Laughter.) Please be seated. Thank you so much. I
wanted to get everyone together on the first day to welcome you to the
From our vantage point yesterday you couldn't
help but be inspired by the sight of Americans as far as the eye could
see. They were there because they believe this is a moment of
great change in America, a time for reinvigorating our democracy and
remaking our country. They've entrusted all of us with a great
responsibility. And so today I'd like to talk with you about our
responsibility to keep that trust.
In a few minutes I'm going to be issuing some
of the first executive orders and directives of my presidency.
And these steps are aimed at establishing firm rules of the road for my
administration and all who serve in it, and to help restore that faith
in government, without which we cannot deliver the changes we were sent
here to make -- from rebuilding our economy and ensuring that anyone
who is willing to work and find a well-paying job, to protecting and
defending the United States, and promoting peace and security.
However long we are keepers of the public
trust we should never forget that we are here as public servants and
public service is a privilege. It's not about advantaging
yourself. It's not about advancing your friends or your corporate
clients. It's not about advancing an ideological agenda or the
special interests of any organization. Public service is, simply
and absolutely, about advancing the interests of Americans.
The men and women in this room understand
this, and that's why you're here. All of you are committed to
building a more responsible, more accountable government. And
part of what that means is making sure that we're spending precious tax
dollars wisely and cutting costs wherever possible.
During this period of economic emergency,
families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington.
And that's why I'm instituting a pay freeze on the salaries of my
senior White House staff. Some of the people in this room will be
affected by the pay freeze, and I want you to know that I appreciate
your willingness to agree to it, recognizing that it's what's required
of you at this moment. It's a mark of your commitment to public
But the American people deserve more than
simply an assurance that those who are coming to Washington will serve
their interests. They also deserve to know that there are rules
on the books to keep it that way. They deserve a government that
is truly of, by, and for the people. As I often said during the
campaign, we need to make the White House the people's house. And
we need to close the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into
government freely, and lets them use their time in public service as a
way to promote their own interests over the interests of the American
people when they leave.
So today we are taking a major step towards
fulfilling this campaign promise. The executive order on ethics I
will sign shortly represents a clean break from business as
usual. As of today, lobbyists will be subject to stricter limits
than under any other administration in history. If you are a
lobbyist entering my administration, you will not be able to work on
matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the
previous two years. When you leave government, you will not
be able to lobby my administration for as long as I am President.
And there will be a ban on gifts by lobbyists to anyone serving in the
administration, as well.
Now, the new rules on lobbying alone, no
matter how tough, are not enough to fix a broken system in
Washington. That's why I'm also setting new rules that govern not
just lobbyists, but all those who have been selected to serve in my
If you are enlisting in government service, you will have to commit in
writing to rules limiting your role for two years in matters involving
people you used to work with, and barring you from any attempt to
influence your former government colleagues for two years after you
leave. And you will receive an ethics briefing on what is
required of you to make sure that our government is serving the
people's interests, and nobody else's -- a briefing, I'm proud to
say, I was the first member of this administration to receive last
But the way to make a government responsible
is not simply to enlist the services of responsible men and women, or
to sign laws that ensure that they never stray. The way to make
government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to
make government accountable is make it transparent so that the American
people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they're
being made, and whether their interests are being well served.
The directives I am giving my administration
today on how to interpret the Freedom of Information Act will do just
that. For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this
city. The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument
for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not
be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every
agency and department should know that this administration stands on
the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who
seek to make it known.
To be sure, issues like personal privacy and
national security must be treated with the care they demand. But
the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret
does not mean you should always use it. The Freedom of
Information Act is perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for
making our government honest and transparent, and of holding it
accountable. And I expect members of my administration not simply
to live up to the letter but also the spirit of this law.
I will also hold myself as President to a new
standard of openness. Going forward, anytime the American people
want to know something that I or a former President wants to withhold,
we will have to consult with the Attorney General and the White House
Counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of
law. Information will not be withheld just because I say
so. It will be withheld because a separate authority believes my
request is well grounded in the Constitution.
Let me say it as simply as I can:
Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this
Our commitment to openness means more than
simply informing the American people about how decisions are
made. It means recognizing that government does not have all the
answers, and that public officials need to draw on what citizens
know. And that's why, as of today, I'm directing members of my
administration to find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience
of ordinary Americans -- scientists and civic leaders, educators and
entrepreneurs -- because the way to solve the problem of our time is --
the way to solve the problems of our time, as one nation, is by
involving the American people in shaping the policies that affect their
The executive orders and directives I'm
issuing today will not by themselves make government as honest and
transparent as it needs to be. And they do not go as far as we
need to go towards restoring accountability and fiscal restraint in
Washington. But these historic measures do mark the beginning of
a new era of openness in our country. And I will, I hope, do
something to make government trustworthy in the eyes of the American
people in the days and weeks, months and years to come. That's a
pretty good place to start.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
(The executive order and directives are
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Lisa,
our schedule now -- the swearing-in is going to be taking place, and
the Vice President is going to be carrying that out? Okay.
Before the Vice President does that, let me
just say how proud I am of all of you. This is an extraordinary
collection of talent, and you inspire great confidence in me. I
think the more the American people get to know you, the more you will
inspire great confidence in the American people. All of you have
made extraordinary sacrifices to be here. Many of you have
brought your families here; they're making extraordinary
But what a -- what a moment we're in.
What an opportunity we have to change this country. And for those
of us who have been in public life before, these kinds of moments come
around just every so often. The American people are really
counting on us now. Let's make sure we take advantage of
it. I know you will. So thank you for your commitment.
Joe, do you want to administer the oath?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Am I doing this
THE PRESIDENT: For the senior staff.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: For the senior
staff, all right.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. A number of
Cabinet members have already --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: My memory is not as
good as Justice Roberts, Chief Justice Roberts. (Laughter.)
Okay, no, I -- this is the list. Do you have a copy of the
oath? Which senior staff are we doing?
THE PRESIDENT: A whole bunch of senior
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay. All of
the senior staff --
THE PRESIDENT: Rise.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- please
rise. I will say "aye," and then you repeat your name.
THE PRESIDENT: Marvin, button up your
(Senior staff are sworn in.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Congratulations.
Mr. President -- our senior staff.
END 1:31 P.M. EST