Secrecy Report Card 2008

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OpenTheGovernment.org, a coalition of organizations (including Sunlight) aimed at promoting transparency in the federal government, released their fifth annual Secrecy Report Card. The report shows that the federal government is increasingly conducting its business in the dark.  This is especially true of the executive branch lead by an administration whose obsession with secrecy surpasses that of even Richard Nixon. “The current administration continues to refuse to be held accountable to the public,” said Patrice McDermott, the coalition’s executive director. As the report says:

The administration of President George W. Bush has over its seven and one half years to date exercised unprecedented levels not only of restriction of access to information about federal government’s policies and decisions, but also of suppression of discussion of those policies and their underpinnings and sources. It continues to refuse to be held accountable to the public through the oversight responsibilities of Congress. We have been made less secure as a result and the open society on which we pride ourselves has been undermined and will take hard work to repair.

Restoring openness and accountability is key to winning back the trust of the public, Patrice said in a press release. “In recent years, polls have shown that a growing number of Americans believe the federal government is secretive-terrible news for our democracy,” she said.

The report cites the following as indicators of growing secrecy:

  • The government spent $195 maintaining the secrets already on the books for every one dollar the government spent declassifying documents, a 5 percent increase in one year.
  • 18 percent of the requested Department of Defense (DOD) acquisition funding is for classified, or “black,” programs. Classified acquisition funding has more than doubled in real terms since FY 1995.
  • $114.1 billion of federal contract funding was given out without any competition. On average since 2000, fully and openly competed contracts have dropped by almost 25 percent
  • Federal surveillance activity under the jurisdiction of the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has risen for the 9th consecutive year-more than double the amount in 2000.

As bleak as the report is, it’s not totally devoid of good news.  It ends with a survey of actions taken by the 110th Congress to force more executive branch openness. For instance, Congress passed the OPEN Government Act of 2007, which was meant to help streamline the myriad of problems with the Freedom of Information Act. Another encouraging bill is S. 3077, the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008, which if it becomes law would bolster the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006. It was this law that set up USAspending.gov based on OMB Watch’s FedSpending.org.

Congratulations to Patrice and her team on completing this vitally important report. We at Sunlight are proud to be a member of their coalition.

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