Open government groups call for new USTR “transparency officer”

In a letter sent today, OTG joined 22 groups and individuals committed to government openness and accountability to urge the USTR to reconsider the recent decision to appoint the USTR General Counsel as its new, congressionally-mandated “transparency officer.”

The letter emphasizes the inherent structural conflict of interest between the role of general counsel, and the intended role of the new USTR transparency officer – a position that Congress established in the Fast Track legislation to alter and improve what many in Congress consider an unacceptable lack of transparency by this Administration with respect to trade policy in general and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) specifically.

In February 2012, many of our organizations wrote to President Obama to urge him to increase the transparency of the TPP negotiating process. At that time, we pointed out that without any public access to even the most fundamental draft agreement texts and other documents, executive branch trade officials were making important policy decisions that may significantly affect the way we live our lives by limiting our public protections.

Since then, many members of Congress, disturbed by the secrecy of the negotiations, have consistently raised similar concerns demanding public access to draft composite negotiating texts through numerous letters and pieces of legislation. Congress’ unease is reflected in the requirement for USTR to appoint a transparency officer. wrote an op-ed last month about the demand for transparency on trade negotiations, pointing out that despite popular demands for more information, the secretive TPP negotiations march on.

“The President’s pledge issued on his first day of office to usher in a ‘new era of openness’ stands in stark contrast to his Administration’s secretive approach to trade negotiations,” according to Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of “The appointment of the USTR’s own general counsel to the Fast Track-mandated transparency officer position raises serious concerns about the USTR’s commitment to the principle of transparency that the legislation intended to address.”

The following organizations and individuals joined the letter: 


Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Center for Effective Government
Common Cause
Cyber Privacy Project
Defending Dissent Foundation
Demand Progress
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Flush The TPP
Government Accountability Project
Media Freedom Foundation
Popular Resistance
Project Censored
Project On Government Oversight
Public Citizen
Sunlight Foundation
Student Press Law Center
Society of Professional Journalists    


Jonathan Fox, American University*
David S. Levine, Elon University and Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy*

*Affiliations for identification purposes only