Biden Made Some Progress in First 100 Days: Here’s What He Should Prioritize in His Next 100 Days in Office
Implementing measures based on return to a pre-Trump status quo are steps in right direction but fall short of meaningful reform
Since his first days in office, President Joe Biden has made strides in several areas related to accountability, including restoring ethics requirements, revoking harmful Trump administration orders, and reversing COVID-19 pandemic secrecy. But as the clock winds down on his first 100 days, his administration has yet to make a substantive commitment to transparency and oversight. What Biden does in the next 100 days is paramount, as he exits the honeymoon period and sets the tone for the remainder of his presidential term, which he has declared will adhere to the “highest standard of transparency.” Long before the start of his presidency, in 2020, a broad coalition of more than 40 good government organizations and experts from across the political spectrum convened to produce Accountability 2021, a wide-ranging set of recommendations for the Biden administration to set the federal government on the path to true accountability and repair the critical gaps in transparency, ethics, and oversight the previous administration exposed.
We will continue to call on the Biden administration to prioritize the following action steps in his next 100 days to forge an enduring path toward long-standing transparency and accountability in government.
Commit to Open Government Principles
Gaps in the public record of our government’s decision-making prevent accountability and exacerbate corruption when political agendas dictate what type of, or even whether the information is made public. The lack of reliable records of what has been said or promised behind closed doors or in virtual meetings stymies Congress’s ability to conduct oversight and undermines our democracy. The public has the right to complete, accurate, and timely information necessary to hold officials accountable and to participate fully in government.
The Biden administration can demonstrate its commitment to transparency by appointing a Chief Accountability Officer to elevate transparency and ethics measures throughout the federal government because secrecy fosters rights violations and abuses. Additionally, a directive from the president to Attorney General Merrick Garland to issue a memo to agencies on the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act and how to fully comply with the law, especially its presumption of openness, will strengthen transparency. Biden can put a stop to the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel’s practice of secret law by directing the agency to make public all formal written legal opinions. As an alarming spate of Americans, especially Black Americans, are killed in encounters with police, the administration must require the DOJ to create a comprehensive federal database of use of force incidents involving police and civilians – and tie federal grant funding to compliance with reporting the data.
Elevate Ethics as a Core Value
Biden issued the strongest ethics order of any U.S. president on his first day in office. His order bars senior officials “shadow lobbying”— working behind the scenes to support lobbying activity while avoiding registering as a lobbyist—for a year after leaving the administration. This was a first for a presidential ethics order. Biden also imposed restrictions on “golden parachutes,” payments individuals receive from their employers when they leave to work in government—another first. Yet Biden still has more work to do on ethics and accountability issues. He should prioritize lasting ethics reform and work with Congress on legislation that would codify the rules in his ethics order into law that strengthen the government oversight and accountability system for the long term.
As Biden transitions into the next 100 days of his administration, prioritizing the fulfillment of his campaign promise to relaunch ethics.gov would ensure the public’s access to all ethics documents and elevate ethics as a core value throughout the federal government. He can do so in tandem with establishing a Lobbying Reform Task Force to improve lobbying disclosures and reporting, while enforcing current ethics and conflicts of interest laws such as the Hatch Act, the Lobbying Disclosure Act, and the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
Respect Balance of Power
Our government’s system of checks and balances is critical to preventing concentration of power in any of the co-equal branches of government, particularly in the executive branch. Over time, presidential power grabs that have teetered on authoritarianism and Congressional acquiescence have threatened the balance of power in our political system. Biden must reverse this trend by allowing Congress and Inspectors General the opportunity to engage in meaningful oversight.
The Biden administration can demonstrate respect for balance of power by initiating a review of congressional information requests to the White House and executive branch agencies over the past four years to determine which previously withheld documents should be shared with Congress and the public. The administration should also fill the 13 vacant inspector general positions requiring presidential appointment with qualified individuals who have not held political positions in the White House, and work to reverse executive branch overreach of the past several decades by supporting reforms to the National Emergencies Act and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, and respect Congress’ authority to declare war.
Support Whistleblowers as Catalysts for Accountable Government
Whistleblowers play a critical role in exposing executive branch abuses, but more than one-third of federal workers recently said they were less likely to make whistleblowing disclosures because they fear retaliation that threatens their careers, livelihood and even their safety. Brave individuals who speak out when they witness wrongdoing deserve Biden’s support and protection. The administration can reaffirm the value of whistleblower disclosures by strengthening government programs to protect the employees that make such disclosures.
In addition to retaliation and alienation, whistleblowers face a host of structural and cultural issues in the federal government. Biden can safeguard the interests of whistleblowers within the administration by appointing a Special Assistant to serve in the Domestic Policy Council.
Embrace Scientific Integrity Safeguards as Essential to Effective Pandemic Response
The government’s initial response to the coronavirus pandemic was defined by silenced experts, political interference, and limited access to data when the country desperately needed effective policies to control and mitigate the virus’s devastating impact. While the Biden administration has taken several important steps to address several of these past failures, alongside Congress Biden has the power to ensure scientific integrity, equity, and access to information are defining features of the country’s pandemic response, recovery and preparedness efforts in the future. Despite the government’s efforts to conceal COVID-19 data early in the pandemic, available data now confirm that the government’s failed pandemic preparedness and response efforts have disproportionately impacted Black, Native American, and Latino populations resulting in higher mortality rates, and greater financial loss.
The Office of Management and Budget must establish standard procedures for the collection, disclosure and maintenance of data related to the pandemic, and use the data to ensure that response and recovery efforts are tailored to meet the disparate needs of each community across the country. Under the Biden administration, scientific integrity on COVID-19 matters is improving, with experts like Dr. Fauci empowered to speak freely again and agencies reevaluating their internal policies. But the best way to give scientific integrity policies teeth and staying power is to legislate them. President Biden must call on Congress to pass the Scientific Integrity Act. With millions of American lives at stake, our country cannot afford to have these principles discarded again.
Please urge the Biden administration to adopt these critical recommendations in the next 100 days to repair our democratic foundations and strengthen our nation.
To speak with the experts that contributed to Accountability 2021, visit the expert profiles page for more information. Monitor the progress of A2021 recommendations under the Biden administration here.