New report tracks increase in government secrecy

Hannah Bergman | Freedom of Information | Quicklink | September 9, 2008

 The federal government held steady on the path toward greater secrecy in 2007, according to a report released today by the non-profit group OpenTheGovernment.org.  

The annual Secrecy Report Card examines progress in more than a dozen areas of government, from the processing of Freedom of Information Act requests to orders to keep patent information under wraps. For its review, the group compiled information from multiple agency reports and other non-profit studies, and did its own research.  

Among the key findings:  Fewer documents were considered for declassification in 2007 than in the year before -- a decline of about 13 percent. But 62 of those documents ultimately were declassified, a small increase over the year before.

Most notably, the National Security Council declassified about 595,000 pages in 2007, up an amazing 1,044 percent from 2006.  The National Archives and Records Administration declassified 967,758 pages, up 350 percent from the year before.  

Government-wide, almost 22 million FOIA requests were received in 2007, an increase of 2 percent from the previous year. The cost of processing FOIA requests rose 16 percent from 2006 to $352.9 million.

The report speculated this may be due to improper accounting at some agencies.  

Only 35.6 percent of FOIA requesters ultimately got all the documents they wanted, the lowest since 1998, when agencies began reporting the data.   

New secrecy orders covering new patents, which the government can impose under federal law, increased 18 percent to 128 in 2007. There were a total of 5,002 such orders in effect last year.  

And in another area, the federal government spent $114.1 billion or 26 percent of its contracting dollars in the 2007 fiscal year on no-bid contracts.   

Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org, said in a press release, “These trends indicate that citizens will have to wait even longer to know what their government is doing...The current administration continues to refuse to be held accountable to the public.”