So, Who's Visiting the White House? Holes in Those Visitor Logs

April 15, 2011 - 2:55 AM

White House

President Barack Obama walks with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) around the South Lawn of the White House, on May 5, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – White House visitor logs released by the administration are incomplete, listing mostly people taking part in group tours or public social events but at times leaving out visits by lobbyists, campaign donors and friends, according to a government watchdog group.

Although the Obama administration is the first to publicly release White House logs, an investigation by the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity, released Thursday, found what it called “holes” in the records.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said this was not a matter of trying to conceal information from the public, however. He said the glitches occurred because these security records were not designed for public release.

The CPI said the logs were incomplete for thousands of visitors, “including lobbyists, government employees, campaign donors, policy experts, and friends of the first family.”

“The White House website proudly boasts of making available ‘over 1,000,000 records of everyone who's come through the doors of the White House’ via a searchable database,” the watchdog group continues.

“Yet the center’s analysis shows that the logs routinely omit or cloud key details about the identity of visitors, who they met with, the nature of the visit, and even includes the names of people who never showed up. These are critical gaps that raise doubts about their historical accuracy and utility in helping the public understand White House operations from social events to meetings on key policy debates.”

The report also says:

-- “Of 50,000 visitors logged in to see President Obama, most were attending 600-plus social events that drew hundreds or thousands of people.”

-- “Two-thirds of the visitors in the database were on White House group tours.”

-- “Junior aides often escorted VIP visitors, masking the real White House visitee.”

Carney was asked Thursday how this squared with Obama’s pledge to be the most transparent president ever.

“The president has made extraordinary efforts to demonstrate the transparency he thinks is vitally important,” Carney replied. “What I would note about the fact that we released records that have never been released before is that the system – the WAVES system, from which these releases are drawn – is not designed for public release. They are designed for security reasons.”

Carney declined to comment directly on the report, only on the visitor log system.

“The fact they are incomplete is not an effort to withhold information,” Carney said. “We release the information that we have in ways that have never been done before by any administration of any party. And we continue to work on ways to enhance transparency.”

WAVES is a White House acronym for Workers and Visitors Entry System.

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Among what it described as weaknesses in the database, the CPI cited:

-- “The ‘event’ description in the logs is blank for more than 205,000 visits, including many that involved small meetings with the president and his key aides.”

“Five junior staff aides together received more than 4,440 visits. By contrast, then chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, famed for his workaholic schedule, is listed for less than 500 visits.”

“Less than 1 percent of the estimated 500,000 visits to the White House in Obama’s first eight months – a time when the new administration was bustling with activity – have been disclosed, according to the Center’s analysis.”

“The logs include names of people cleared by the Secret Service for White House entry who never showed up. The Center analysis found more than 200,000 visits with no time of arrival, an indication the person didn’t enter the White House though there is no way to know for certain. For instance, actor Ryan Gosling is listed at a West Wing event with members of his band, Dead Man’s Bones, in October 2009. But Gosling’s representative, Carolyn Govers, said the actor did not go.”

“Two-thirds of the more than 1 million names listed are people who passed through parts of the White House on guided group tours.”

As of Thursday night, the White House Web site still included the assertion that “Over 1,000,000 records of everyone who's come through the doors of the White House have been released to date in a searchable database.”