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Tag Archive: olc

A Sunshine Week Call for Greater Transparency

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As part of Sunshine week, I had the opportunity to testify at a  House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing to share a few of Sunlight's ideas about making the executive branch more transparent. Video and text of my opening statement are below. It almost goes without saying that we're very interested in the transparency bills the Oversight Committee will be marking up this Wednesday.  

Text of Opening Statement

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Three Ideas to Open the Executive Branch

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Tonight, President Obama will deliver the State of the Union Address to Congress. He is expected to urge the Legislative branch to take action on guns, immigration, climate change and a laundry list of other issues. In order to make progress on the major questions of the day, the President will have to negotiate and compromise with Congress. But, that doesn't mean he can't make progress through other means. A few weeks ago, the Advisory Committee on Transparency heard three ideas that President Obama could consider implementing right away to make the Executive branch more open and transparent. Read on for the videos.

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For Transparency’s Sake, Release DOJ’s Secret Opinions

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The White House finally agreed to allow lawmakers (not the public) to see the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel memo authorizing the use of drone strikes on civilians, the New York Times reports, but as a Sunlight analysis has shown, the administration is still withholding 37% of these crucially important legal opinions from public view (that were issued from inauguration in 2009 until March 2012). The administration is even holding on to much older opinions. 39% of OLC opinions issued between 1998 and 2012 are still being withheld from online publication, accounting for 201 of the 509 opinions issued during that time, our August 2012 analysis found. This three minute Advisory Committee on Transparency video, featuring CREW's Jeremy Miller, explains the importance of the OLC opinions. Secret law and good governance do not mix. While we recognize that there occasionally may be reasons that countenance against their full release, we recommend the following:

  • The Office of Legal Counsel should refresh its website to indicate how many memos are issued each year. It should adopt the default of releasing all memos, not just the ones it deems “significant” (as such a distinction invites abuse and mistrust), and should do so prospectively and retrospectively.
  • Where OLC cannot release an opinion in its entirety, it should release versions that are redacted as lightly as possible.
  • At a minimum, the titles of opinions should be released, and if even that raises insurmountable issues, descriptions of memos should be available in their stead.
  • Finally, the administration should consider bringing in a trusted reviewer from outside the executive branch who can credibly (and publicly) make recommendations about the release of additional opinions.

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Sunlight’s Priorities for the Next Administration

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Regardless of who wins the presidential election, the next administration will have enormous power to say how open our government will be. We have organized our priorities for the next administration below, to share where we think our work on executive branch issues will be focused, in advance of the election results. From money in politics to open data, spending, and freedom of information, we'll be working to open up the Executive Branch. We'd love to hear any suggestions you might have for Sunlight's Executive Branch work, please leave additional ideas in the comments below. (We'll also be sharing other recommendations soon, including a legislative agenda for the 113th Congress, and a suite of reform proposals for the House and Senate rules packages.) Sunlight Reform Agenda for the Next Administration:

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Oversight on the Office of Legal Counsel and Secrecy

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After previewing it first, I attended last Wednesday’s Hearing by the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee about “Secret Law and the Threat to Democratic and Accountable Government.”

For fuller coverage, see FireDogLake, the Guardian, ACS Blog, or the statements and testimony from the hearing (set off on the upper right).

While my coverage will be far from complete, I find the process of taking and then preparing my notes from committee hearings to be a great way to digest what was presented, and to start to work through some of the issues that relate to open government and accountability, which lie at the heart of this hearing. (more)

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Senate Hearing on Secret Law

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Tomorrow morning, the Senate Constitution Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Secret Law and the Threat to Democratic and Accountable Government. In Chairman Feingold's words:



Senator Feingold is talking about memos put out by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), a part of the Department of Justice. The executive branch needs guidance on how the law affects its actions, and the OLC exists to provide legal interpretations for rest of the executive branch. These opinions strongly determine the nature of executive branch activities, and therefore have an undeniable bearing on the public interest. (more)

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