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Attendees of the recent Tea Party Convention gave a rousing reception to Sarah Palin -- especially when she talked about transparency surrounding President Barack Obama's $787 billion stimulus package.
"Our administration promised that it would be good stewards of taxpayer dollars," Palin said on Feb. 6, 2010, in Nashville.
Palin noted that the administration had promised openness and transparency, but said that Vice President Joe Biden recently met with the stimulus transparency board behind closed doors.
"I tried to look into that transparency thing, but Joe's meetings with the transparency and accountability board? It was closed to the public. Yup, they held a transparency meeting behind closed doors," she said.
There's something ironic about a transparency meeting being held in private, so we wondered whether Palin was correct.
Generally speaking, private meetings among top officials are not unusual in Washington. That's how business is often conducted in the executive and legislative branches. In those cases, no reporters are allowed. In a few cases, one or two reporters are allowed into the room to compile what's called a "pool report" in journalism parlance. These blow-by-blow summaries are then circulated among the press corps.
Meg Stapleton, Palin's spokeswoman, told us the former Alaska governor was referring to a Jan. 14, 2010, meeting between Biden and Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. It is an oversight committee that was created by the economic stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The board is supposed to provide transparency on how stimulus funds are used, and prevent fraud and mismanagement. Stapleton pointed us to a post on the Los Angeles Times Web site by blogger Andrew Malcolm, who noted that a meeting about transparency was closed to the press.
"Unfortunately, the transparency meeting is nontransparent, closed to the press. ... Which makes it -- what? -- secret openness? Open secrecy?" Malcolm wrote.
We checked Biden's schedule for the day, and indeed, he met with Devaney at 2:15 p.m. Jan. 14. The meeting was closed to the press: no transcript, no pool report.
But it was not, as Palin indicated, a meeting with the full board. It was listed as a one-on-one meeting with Devaney.
White House spokeswoman Liz Oxhorn said it was a meeting between Biden and Devaney to discuss measures Devaney is taking to prevent fraud. The spokeswoman said those meetings are typically closed because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.
We found two other sessions where Biden and Devaney had been involved in public meetings together. In February 2009, the two attended an open meeting at the White House to talk stimulus bill implementation. In March, they held a conference with governors to discuss stimulus projects. A pool report from June 2009 described a meeting between Biden, Devaney and members of Obama's Cabinet regarding stimulus funding.
Technically speaking, Biden is not a member of the transparency and accountability board, which, besides Devaney, consists of 12 inspectors general from various federal agencies. Minutes from the group's meetings indicate Biden has not attended any of its meetings.
The group is required to meet at least six times every year, but has met a total of 18 times since March 2009, according to the Recovery.gov Web site. The White House did not respond to our inquires about whether the board meets in public or not. Nor did we find newspaper stories or press releases on the Recovery.gov Web site that indicate that these are open meetings. So, from what we can tell, these gatherings have been private, usually at an office building just a few blocks from the White House, though minutes from those meetings, as well as reports, testimony and financial activity reports are made public.
But Palin's claim was strictly about that one meeting between Biden and Devaney. She is correct that Biden and Devaney met privately on Jan. 14. But she incorrectly said it was a meeting of the transparency and accountability board when it was just a meeting of the vice president and the chairman. So we find Palin's claim False.
You Tube, Sarah Palin's speech to the Tea Party convention, accessed Feb. 8, 2010
The Politico, White House gets 'A' for openness, by Kenneth P. Vogel, Jan. 12, 2010
Los Angeles Times, Joe Biden update: He meets on transparency today. But the meeting is closed, by Andrew Malcolm, Jan. 14, 2010
White House, Vice President Joe Biden's schedule, Jan. 14, 2010
Recovery.gov, minutes from meetings of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, accessed Feb. 9, 2010
Recovery.gov, Testimony and Reports, accessed Feb. 9, 2009
White House, Pool report from June 8, 2009
E-mail interview, Meg Stapleton, spokeswoman for Sarah Palin, Feb. 9, 2010
E=mail interview, Liz Oxhorn, White House spokeswoman, Feb. 9, 2010
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