Government data confirm what many have suspected: secrecy has increased dramatically in recent years under policies of the current administration. For every $1 the federal government spent last year releasing old secrets, it spent an extraordinary $120 maintaining the secrets already on the books, according to an analysis by OpenTheGovernment.org.
“Secrecy Report Card: Quantitative Indicators of Secrecy in the Federal Government,” is an initial effort to establish measurable benchmarks for evaluating the level of secrecy in government. The study was released Aug. 26 by OpenTheGovernment.org, a coalition of more than 30 organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, calling for more democracy and less secrecy in government.
“Excessive government secrecy hides problems that the public needs to know, and information embarrassing to officials,” said Rick Blum of OMB Watch, the report’s author and coordinator of the coalition. As examples, he cited the extensive classification of documents regarding Abu Ghraib and key sections of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on pre-war intelligence on Iraq. “Openness both preserves democracy and saves money,” Blum said. The Justice Department reports that last year whistleblowers helped taxpayers recover $1.5 billion.
The government spent $6.5 billion last year creating 14 million new classified documents and securing accumulated secrets — more than it has for at least the past decade. For every new classified document created, the federal government spent $459 securing that document and the accumulated mountain of classified documents. Despite recent recognition from government officials that government classifies too much information, the government continues to create more new secrets each year, at an ever-growing cost to taxpayers.
“The War on Terrorism induced government officials to slam the doors shut on citizens who depended on access to public information to make informed decisions,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee. “While it may be necessary to close access to some extremely sensitive data in response to terrorism, there is no evidence to suggest that the public will only be safe if it is kept ignorant of government activity.”
Indeed, public demand is rising with over 3 million requests for information from government agencies under the Freedom of Information Act last year alone. At the same time, resources devoted to handling public requests for information has held steady.
“It is no secret that the government classifies too much information,” testified William Leonard, Director of Information Security Oversight Office of the National Archive, Aug. 24 before a subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee. The Associated Press quoted the subcommittee chair, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. as saying, “This administration believes the less known the better. I believe the more known the better.”
OpenTheGovernment.org is a coalition of more than 30 organizations promoting less secrecy and more democracy in government. See list of organizations at www.OpenTheGovernment.org