2012 Secrecy Report Card Released…

The 2012 Secrecy Report released today by OpenTheGovernment.org — a coalition of more than 80 groups advocating for open and accountable government— reveals that positive changes from the Obama administration’s open government policies nevertheless appear diminished in the shadow of the President’s bold promise of unprecedented transparency. Ultimately, though, the public needs more information to judge the size, shape, and legitimacy of the government’s secrecy.

Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, said “In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the launch of multiple wars, we chronicled a major growth in the secrecy of the federal government. The Obama Administration has set policies that are starting to turn the tide in favor of open government. But, as far as we can tell from existing numbers, those policies have yet to fully change the direction of government.”

Efforts to open the government continue to be frustrated by a governmental predisposition towards secrecy, especially in the national security bureaucracy. Among the troubling trends: the National Declassification Center will not meet its goal for declassifying old records on time; the government continues to use the state secrets privilege in the same way it did prior to release of a new procedural policy; and the volume of documents marked “Classified” continues to grow, with little assurance or reason offered for the decision that the information properly needs such protection.

The report also indicates some of the Administration’s openness policies are having a positive effect. The federal government received and processed significantly more public requests for information than in previous years. The Office of Special Counsel is also on track to deliver an all-time high number of favorable actions for federal employees who have been victims of reprisal, or other prohibited personnel practices, for blowing the whistle on waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality. Even in the national security field, there is some progress: most notably, the total amount of money requested for intelligence for the coming year was formally disclosed. This is a tremendous success because such disclosure was resisted by government officials for so long. Additionally, the number of people with the authority to create new secrets continued to drop…

Read the full report here.

The report’s contributors will be “hosting a twitter chat from 4 – 5pm (eastern) on Tuesday, September 18. Please follow #secrecy12”
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2010 Secrecy Report Card Is Out…

The 2010 Secrecy Report Card released today by OpenTheGovernment.org — a coalition of more than 70 groups advocating for open government— chronicles a continued decrease in most indicators of secrecy since the end of the Bush Administration and growing backlogs in the declassification system as old secrets move through the system. The report covers the first 9 months of President Obama’s Administration, which he pledged would be the most open, transparent and accountable in history.
According to Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, “Encouraging trends are evident in these early months of the Obama Administration, in both FOIA and in general secrecy. In general, after hitting high water marks during the Bush Administration, statistics indicate the creation of new national security secrets is slowly ebbing.” In FY 2009, for example, the number of original classification decisions, the “sole sources of newly classified information,” decreased almost 10% to 183,224—down from 203,541 in 2008.
The statistics also indicate, however, that the declassification system continues to fall further behind. The report highlights examples of looming secrecy problems the Obama Administration should address, which include:

  • In FY 2009, the government spent $196 maintaining the secrets already on the books for every one dollar spent declassifying documents. Only one-half cent of every dollar spent on security classifications costs overall was spent on declassification, and 8% fewer pages were declassified than in 2008. Overall, expenditures to maintain secrecy increased 2%.
  • In FY 2009, agencies received 7,843 new initial requests for Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR), which led to 69% of pages reviewed being declassified in full; 24% in part. More than 6,000 initial requests, though, were carried over into 2010.

Dr McDermott noted, “This report does not measure the impact of the President’s Open Government Initiative, which is largely focused on making information easily available to the public and increasing participation and collaboration. We continue to push to ensure the government openness and accountability promised in all areas of the Executive Branch.  We look forward to working with the Administration toward meeting this goal, and will continue to work to make sure the public has the information it needs to hold the Administration accountable.”

The only indicators covered by the report that may reflect the Administration’s open government initiative concern the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In FY 2009, the federal government processed 55,000 more FOIA requests than it received in 2009 and reduced backlogged pending requests by almost 56,000.

The issues discussed in the Report include: classified Information and classified costs, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), signing statements, use of state secrets, and more.

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OpenTheGovernment.org is a coalition, transcending party lines, of more than 70 consumer and good government groups, librarians, environmentalists, labor, journalists, and others focused on pushing back governmental secrecy and promoting openness.

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