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Obama freezes WH senior staff pay

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
For those senior staffers making more than $100,000 a year, President Obama today announced a pay freeze on their salaries.

The president signed an executive order instituting stricter ethics rules, including a ban on lobbying the White House when current White House staffers leave their posts as well as a ban on gifts.

Video: At the swearing-in ceremony for senior White House staff, President Obama announces a pay freeze for those making over $100k per year, as well as lobbying

Obama said anyone who attains a government job will receive an ethics briefing and be required to sign off on it. (Obama said he received the very first one of the administration last week.)

The executive order, Obama said, "represents a clean break from business as usual."

He added that the government should be held "accountable" and should be more "transparent."

Americans should "know which decisions are being made" and "how theyre being made, so the American people are well served," Obama said, adding that there is "too much secrecy in this city."

He emphasized that government agencies should act in good faith with regard to the Freedom of Information Act.

"Starting today, every agency and department stands on the side of those who seek information," Obama said.

Some reporters, particularly those who traveled with the campaign, might see irony in statements like these, since the Obama campaign and transition were as tight and on message as the Bush campaigns and administration. It is no secret the news media -- the ultimate information seekers -- got as much information out of the Obama team, as it was authorized to give, which usually wasn't much.

Some information relating to national security and privacy would still be withheld, Obama said, but stressed, "Just because you have the legal power to withhold information, doesn't mean you should."

In cases when the president may not want certain pieces of information divulged in a FOIA request, Obama pledged to consult first with the Attorney General and White House Counsel.

"Transparency and the rule of law," Obama said, "will be the touchstones of this presidency."

Ribbing Roberts
After Obama spoke, Vice President Biden was slated to swear in senior staff. But the vice president, who seemed unaware that he would be leading the ceremony, quipped,  "My memory's not as good as the Chief Justice. (He may have been referring to his needing notes.)

NBC's John Yang notes, President Obama looked uncomfortable. ...

At the Democratic National Committee's meeting, where members will officially vote to make Tim Kaine their chairman, NBC's Mark Murray points out that outgoing chairman Howard Dean also took a shot at Roberts.

When mentioning a slight error in the meeting agenda, Dean said, "I wouldn't trade places with John Roberts."