Failing Grades: New Report on Secrecy Out

The latest Secrecy Report Card is out, and it’s not straight As. According to the report by OpenTheGovernment.org (with which ICOG is affiliated), government secrecy saw further expansion last year despite growing public concern. The report card, produced annually by OTG to identify trends in public access to information, found a troubling lack of transparency in military procurement, assertions of executive privilege, and expansion of “sensitive” categories of information, among other problems.

In 2006, the public’s use of the Freedom of Information Act continued to rise, but agency backlogs are significant;the oldest FOIA request in the federal government has now been pending for more than 20 years.

The report cites many indicators of growing secrecy, including:

  • Since 2001, the “state secrets” privilege (the executive branch power to impose secrecy with little opportunity for appeal or judicial review) has been used a reported 39 times – an average of six times per year in 6.5 years that is more than double the average (2.46) in the previous 24 years.
  • In 2006, 26 percent ($107.5 billion) of federal contracts dollars were completely uncompeted; only one-third of contracts dollars are subject to full and open competition.
  • In six years, President Bush has issued at least 151 signing statements, challenging 1,149 provisions of laws. Of these challenges, 85 percent have been on “constitutional” grounds. Such challenges make it difficult for the public to know that the laws are “faithfully executed” as required by the U.S. Constitution.
  • A 2007 Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report on secret wiretap warrants indicated that the government made 143,074 National Security Letter requests in the period 2003-2005. The number for 2006 remains classified. These requests can be used to obtain information about individuals without the government applying for a court-reviewed warrant.

“The current administration has increasingly refused to be held accountable to the public, including through the oversight responsibilities of Congress,” said Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org. “These practices lead to the circumscription of democracy and our representative government; neither the public nor Congress can make informed decisions in these circumstances.”

You can read the full report at OpenTheGovernment’s Web site.