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Obama freezes pay of top staff

President Barack Obama on Wednesday vowed to forge a new era of government openness and froze the pay of top staff earning more than 100,000 dollars to show Americans their leaders could also tighten their belts amid economic crisis.

world Updated: Jan 22, 2009 01:15 IST

President Barack Obama on Wednesday vowed to forge a new era of government openness and froze the pay of top staff earning more than 100,000 dollars to show Americans their leaders could also tighten their belts amid economic crisis.

"For a long time now there's been too much secrecy in this city," said Obama who was elected partly on a platform of purging big-time politics of influence peddling and corruption.

"The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed," Obama said.

"That era is now over," Obama vowed at a swearing in ceremony for senior members of his White House staff in the Executive Office Building, across the road from the presidential mansion.

Obama, who takes office amid the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s also sought to show his administration shared the sacrifice of Americans outside the US government.

"During this period of economic emergency, families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington," Obama said.

"That's why I am instituting a pay freeze on the salaries of my senior White House staff.

"Some of the people in this room will be affected by the pay freeze, and I want you to know that I appreciate your willingness to agree to it," Obama said.

Obama also pledged to hold himself accountable to "a new standard of openness" introducing new requirements from presidents to keep as much information as possible available to the Americans.

He said that if he, or a former president, wanted to keep information secret they would have to consult the US attorney general and the White House counsel to see whether the move was permitted by law.

"Information will not be withheld just because I say so -- it will be withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the constitution."

The previous US administration of president George W Bush was repeatedly criticised for covering up information that did not need to be withheld and for seeking to ensure some data relating to previous presidencies was covered up.

Obama also banned any gifts from lobbyists to his staff and sought to lay down in the law how they could operate.

"However long we are keepers of the public trust, we should never forget that we are here as public servants, and public service is a privilege," Obama said.

"It's not about advantaging yourself, it's not about advancing your friends or your corporate clients. It's not about advancing an ideological agenda or the special interests of any organization," he added.

Therefore "as of today, lobbyists will be subject to stricter limits than under any other administration in history," the new president said.

"And there will be a ban on gifts by lobbyists to anyone serving in the administration as well."