Wall Street’s tunnel to the White House

Are Treasury officials and their friends able to avoid appearing on the White House’s newly-released visitor logs?

I raise this question because there is a tunnel between the White House and the Treasury Department, and it appears to be used quite frequently by members of the administration’s economic team. See this New York Times article on White House economic advisor Brian Deese:

Several times a day he speed-walks to Treasury, taking a shortcut through the tunnel under the colonnade, near the kitchens.

Ronald Kessler’s Inside the White House has more (colorful) background on the tunnel.

Deese’s comings and goings would not show up on the logs, since he works in the White House. But do Treasury officials avoid appearing on White House visitor logs when they use the tunnel? More troubling: can Wall Street executives and other friends of the Treasury “speed-walk” the tunnel with them?

It’s not just the existence of the tunnel that makes me wonder if the Wall Street wing of the Obama administration is immune to these transparency efforts; the possibility of an exception is borne out by the data.

Geithner counselor Gene Sperling hasn’t visited the White House since January, according to the logs, even though he is often reported to be in meetings at the White House with the rest of Obama’s economic team. Geithner himself hasn’t visited since January, either, according to the logs (except for the Congressional luau).

The White House’s voluntary disclosure policy lists four exceptions; none of them would seem to cover Treasury officials. In fact, many other administration officials show up frequently in the visitor logs, something that special counsel Norm Eisen makes note of in his blog post (White House staff are exempted, however).

In addition to the Treasury tunnel issue, the White House also appears to have inconsistent policies around top-level administration officials and other VIPs. For instance: both Hillary and Bill Clinton visited the Oval Office for meetings in August 2009, according to this Politico report, but neither the Secretary of State nor her husband appear in White House visitor logs that day (since a “Billy Clinton” shows up in the logs, I’m assuming that a search for Bill Clinton was requested). Neither of these visits would seem to qualify under one of the exceptions listed by Eisen.

The White House should be commended for releasing the visitor logs. I made several requests and was happy to see them fulfilled in a timely fashion. But the possibility of unstated exemptions from disclosure is seriously problematic, and something the White House needs to address if the data is going to be at all useful.

Clarifying policies governing Treasury tunnel access would be a step in the right direction. Otherwise, we’ll just have to assume that the tunnel is used as it was in previous administrations (according to Kessler): “to sneak people into the White House so they are not seen by the press.”

Update: To clarify, the White House has only released names that have been requested. The examples I list have been requested – they show up in the data, just not nearly as much as you would expect, or on dates when they were reported to be at the White House.