Contact: Emily Feldman or Patrice McDermott, 202-332-6736
WASHINGTON, Sep. 3 — Government secrecy saw further expansion last year despite growing public concern, according to a report released today by a coalition of open government advocates. The Secrecy Report Card, produced annually by OpenTheGovernment.org in order to identify trends in public access to information, found a troubling lack of transparency in military procurement, new private inventions, and the scientific and technical advice that the government receives, among other areas.
In 2005, the public’s use of the Freedom of Information Act continued to rise and the agencies’ processing of FOIA requests remained mired in backlogs. At the same time, still more “sensitive” categories of information were created that allow federal agencies to withhold documents from the public.
“Every administration wants to control information about its policies and practices,” said Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org, “but the current administration has restricted access to information about our government and its policies at unprecedented levels. The result has been the suppression of discussions about our country’s direction and its security. How can the public or even Congress make informed decisions under such circumstances? The movement away from public accountability must be reversed.”
The report cites many indicators of growing secrecy, including:
- In 2005, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved all 2,079 requests for secret surveillance orders made by U.S. intelligence agencies, rejecting none. So while surveillance of foreign organizations and nationals under the jurisdiction of this secretive court has doubled in the past five years, the public knows nothing of whom or what is being investigated or how agencies are carrying out such investigations.
- The government issued 9,254 National Security Letters during 2005. These letters can be used to obtain information about individuals without the government applying for a court-reviewed warrant and, thus, without any external review.
- In 2005, “black” programs accounted for 17 percent of the Defense Department budget of $315.5 billion. Classified acquisition funding has nearly doubled in real terms since FY 1995, when funding for these programs reached its post-Cold War low.
- Since 2001, the “state secrets” privilege has reportedly been invoked 12 times — an average in 5 years (2.4) that is almost as high as the previous 24 years (2.45).
- President George W. Bush has issued 132 signing statements challenging over 810 provisions of federal laws. In the 211 years of our nation’s history preceding 2000, presidents issued fewer than 600 signing statements that took issue with the bills they signed.
Read the report here in PDF format: http://www.openthegovernment.org/otg/SRC2006.pdf.