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Monday, March 11, 2013

U.S. Presidential, Congressional Secrecy costs public good

Anti-democratic regimes USA: what is covered and the cover-up are breaches of  law
Excerpt, minor editing, brief comment by 
Carolyn Bennett

The Center for Effective Government asserts a mission of helping build an open, accountable government that invests in ─

The common good

Protects people and the environment

Advances national priorities defined by an active, informed citizenry.

From the Center’s March 2013 report 
“Delivering on Open Government”
Secrecy: Failed Congressional Oversight

“The U.S. legislative branch of government – co-equal under the Constitution – has largely failed to provide substantive oversight for openness efforts and to challenge secrecy claims,” the Center for Effective Government report says. 

Congress has conducted little visible oversight in the past four years on a number of key transparency issues. The effects of several new administration policies – such as the Open Government Directive and subsequent open government plans by agencies, executive orders on classification and controlled unclassified information, the scientific integrity memo, and the state secrets policy – have gone largely unexamined.

“While there has been some oversight of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) implementation, this has been the exception. … The lack of oversight is especially evident in areas of national security and secrecy.

“Instead of encouraging greater transparency and accountability, members of Congress have actually supported continued secrecy.

In 2011, for example, the Senate Intelligence Committee proposed punishing unauthorized disclosures of classified information by seizing any federal government pensions the individual may possess.

Such a policy … not requested by intelligence agencies ─ could have a tremendous chilling effect on potential whistleblowers.

The provision was stripped out of the 2013 Intelligence Authorization Act before it was passed in December 2012.

Add caption
“At the same time, the administration has not been fully welcoming of congressional oversight in the rare instances when it has occurred on open government issues.

Congressional staff report continuing difficulty in getting executive officials to testify before committees and agencies’ slow pace in responding to congressional requests for oversight information.

The Justice Department’s testimony in a 2012 House hearing on using technology to improve FOIA implementation did as much to muddy the waters as it did to elucidate the issue.

The department downplayed the accomplishment of other agencies in developing the FOIA Online portal and claimed that because other agencies had FOIA WebPages, there were already many such portals.

When the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on the state secrets privilege in June 2009, the administration declined to provide witnesses despite the committee’s request.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), then chair of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, expressed disappointment in the lack of administration participation saying, ‘It should be possible to send someone to provide us with the Administration’s views and to answer our questions to the extent that they are able.’

Presidential privilege trumps right to know
“National Security” claim = 
information blackout

“Claims of ‘national security’ should not inhibit oversight or enable an atmosphere of impunity for executive actions …,” the Center for Effective Government said. But “ …the Obama administration’s ‘commitment to transparency’ has been least evident in the national  security arena.”
hough excessive executive branch secrecy around national security concerns has for the longer term been an established problem. … and in 2004 testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, George W Bush administration officials admitted that half of what was being classified did not merit such protection … the Obama government, “… in a few aspects has increased questionable national security-related secrecy.”

Costs of Secrecy

Endangers public “Unnecessary secrecy around national security issues can often make the public less safe. The 9/11 Commission Report found that over-classification and excessive compartmentalization of information resulted in agencies not sharing key information sufficiently and contributed to [the country’s] inability to prevent the terrorist attacks.

‘Poor information sharing was the single greatest failure of government in the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks’ [Vice Chair of the 9/11 Commission testifying in 2005 before the Committee on Homeland Security]

Thwarts constitutional checks and balances “… Keeping too much information secret prevents proper execution of oversight and accountability of agencies and officials.”

Causes unprovoked aggression “…Questionable claims of national security prevented a closer examination of the Bush administration’s claims about evidence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which sent thousands of U.S. troops into combat.”

Breaches Civil Liberties “Similar assertions were used to avoid oversight from Congress or the public on an extensive warrantless wiretapping program that monitored U.S. citizens’ communications, which many believe constitutes the largest violation of civil liberties in decades.”

Wastes monetary resources “It costs a lot of money to protect secret documents for decades and even more money to review them all for potential declassification.” In fiscal year 2011, “agencies spent an estimated $11.4 billion on security classification costs.”

 he Center for Effective Government’s report concludes in this area of the text that excessive secrecy “weakens the ability of the American public to democratically participate in national security policy and precludes their witness of accountability for actions taken by the security apparatus.”

nother reform organization, the Center for Progressive Reform, notes that excessive secrecy in government undercuts the democratic process and protects corporations from accountability.

For democratic government to thrive, the group says, government “workings must be visible to the public.” Though this might be questionable, the group continues, saying that this “fundamental principle has served the nation well for more than two centuries – in times of war and peace, bounty and bust. To be sure, some matters of national security must remain confidential, especially in dangerous times; but during the Bush years, the clamp-down on the flow of information and on the very notion of transparency itself went far beyond the demands of national security.”
Obama Government's
Assassination drones
Extrajudicial killing

he succeeding administration, it seems, has pushed secrecy even further: hiding its deeds from public scrutiny, operating outside law, against democratic process and  against the public good. 

Who will hold government accountable for the continuing breach of its oath and failure to uphold the Constitution of the United States?

Sources and notes

“DELIVERING ON OPEN GOVERNMENT: The Obama Administration’s Unfinished Legacy, March 2013 (report by Center for Effective Government formerly OMB Watch), http://www.foreffectivegov.org/files/info/obama-first-term-transparency-report.pdf

Ref: “Too Many Secrets: Overclassification as a Barrier to Critical Information Sharing,” Hearing before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations of the House Committee on Government Reform, Aug. 24, 2004. http://www.fas.org/sgp/congress/2004/082404transcript.html.

Report authors: Sean Moulton, Director of Open Government Policy; Gavin Baker, Open Government Policy Analyst

Brief bio of Sean Moulton: Employment history: OMB Watch Senior Policy Analyst; Director, Federal Information Policy Board Membership/Affiliation
Education: University of Maryland undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics, English, and public policy

Brief bio of Gavin Baker: OMB Watch Federal Information Policy Analyst researching government transparency and public access to information, including e-government, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), information quality issues, and scientific integrity in public policy.
Education: University of Florida and Florida State University undergraduate and graduate studies in political science and information studies

Center for Effective Government Report contributors: Katherine McFate, President and CEO; Anastasia Postnikova, Open Government Policy Intern

Acknowledgements: “The Center for Effective Government’s work on open government issues is made possible by the generous support of the Bauman Foundation, C.S. Fund, Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Scherman Foundation, Stewart R. Mott Foundation, and the individuals and other organizations who contribute to our work.”

The Center for Effective Government

“To ensure government is effective and responsive to the priorities of the American people, the Center for Effective Government “conducts policy research and develops policy proposals; creates tools to encourage citizen participation and government accountability; and builds broad-based coalitions to advance these values,” says the organization’s website information.

“To ensure the American people understand the vital role of government, Center for Effective Government produces and disseminates educational tools and communications materials.

“Individuals and organizations wishing to quote, post, reprint, or otherwise redistribute this report, in whole or in part, are permitted to do so provide they attribute the Center for Effective Government as the original publisher.”


Center for Progressive Reform

The Center for Progressive Reform “is a nonprofit research and educational organization with a network of Member Scholars working to protect health, safety, and the environment through analysis and commentary,” http://www.progressivereform.org/secrecy.cfm


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