The administration of President George W. Bush
continues to expand government secrecy across a broad array of agencies and
actions and at greatly increased cost to taxpayers, according to a coalition
of groups that promote greater transparency.
Dr. Patrice McDermott, director of Open the Government, a watchdog group,
told IPS, "The federal government under the Bush administration has shown
its commitment to secrecy by where it has put its money more no-bid contracts,
fewer government employees processing FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests,
less on training on classification issues, and almost 200 dollars spent on
keeping secrets to every dollar allocated to open them."
"Given our growing deficit, the next administration faces difficult choices
in restoring accountable government," he added.
In its "Secrecy Report Card 2008," released Sept. 9, the group concluded
that the Bush administration "exercised unprecedented levels not only
of restriction of access to information about federal government's policies
and decisions, but also of suppression of discussion of those policies and
their underpinnings and sources."
Open the Government is a Washington-based coalition of consumer and good government
groups, librarians, environmentalists, labor, journalists, and others.
It says that that classification activity remains significantly higher than
before 2001. In 2006, the number of original classification decisions increased
to 233,639, after dropping for the two previous years.
The government spent $195 maintaining the secrets already on the books for
every one dollar it spent declassifying documents in 2007, a 5 percent increase
in one year.
At the same time, fewer pages were declassified than in 2006. The nation's
16 intelligence agencies, which account for a large segment of the declassification
numbers, are excluded from the total reported figures.
Classified or "black" programs accounted for about $31.9 billion,
or 18 percent of the fiscal year (FY) 2008 Department of Defense (DOD) acquisition
funding requested last year. Classified acquisition funding has more than doubled
in real terms since FY 1995.
Almost 22 million requests were received under FOIA in 2007, an increase of
almost 2 percent over the previous year. But a 2008 study revealed that, in
2007, FOIA spending at 25 key agencies fell by $7 million, to $233.8 million,
and the agencies put 209 fewer people to work processing FOIA requests.
While the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does not reveal
much about its activities, the Department of Justice reported that, in 2007,
the court approved 2,371 orders rejecting only three and approving two left
over from the previous year. Since 2000, federal surveillance activity under
the jurisdiction of the court has risen for the ninth year in a row more
than doubling during the Bush administration.
The court was established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
in 1978 after revelations of the widespread wiretapping by the administration
of Richard M. Nixon to spy on political and activist groups. Recently, efforts
to reform the act have been triggered by the Bush administration's admission
that it had conducted secret surveillance programs in the U.S. without warrants
from the court.
In addition, more than 25 percent (worth $114.2 billion) of all contracts
awarded by the federal government last year were not subject to open competition
a proportion that has remained largely unchanged for the last eight
Investigations by Congress and independent government agencies of the war
in Iraq have revealed billions of dollars in no-bid contracts, covering everything
from delivering food and water to U.S. troops to providing armed security for
U.S. officials and visiting dignitaries. There have been widespread allegations
of waste, fraud, and abuse by contractors. Several have been convicted and
prosecutions of others are pending.
During 2007, government-wide, 64 percent of meetings of the Federal Advisory
Committee were closed to the public. Excluding groups advising three agencies
that historically have accounted for the majority of closed meetings, 15 percent
of the remainder were closed a 24 percent increase over the number closed
in 2006. These numbers do not reflect closed meetings of subcommittees and
The Federal Advisory Committee Act was passed in 1972 to ensure that advice
by the various advisory committees formed over the years is objective and accessible
to the public.
The report also found that in seven years, President Bush has issued at least
156 "signing statements," challenging over 1,000 provisions of laws
passed by Congress. In 2007, eight were issued.
The so-called "state secrets privilege" invoked only six times
between 1953 and 1976 has been used by the Bush administration a reported
45 times, an average of 6.4 times per year in seven years. This is more than
double the average (2.46) in the previous 24 years.
The "state secrets privilege" is a legal doctrine that contends
that admission of certain information into court proceedings would endanger
U.S. national security. The Bush administration has frequently invoked the
privilege to dismiss lawsuits that would be embarrassing to the government,
and the courts have generally been deferential to the government's claims.
National Security Letter (NSL) requests continued to rise; the 2007 numbers
are still classified, but the recently unclassified new number for 2006 shows
a 4.7 percent increase in requests over 2005. Since enactment of the USA PATRIOT
Act in 2001, the number of NSLs issued has seen an astronomical increase.
The NSL provision of the PATRIOT Act radically expanded the authority of the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to demand personal customer records from
Internet service providers, financial institutions, and credit companies without
prior court approval.
Through NSLs, the FBI is authorized to compile dossiers about innocent people
and obtain sensitive information such as the Web sites a person visits and
a list of e-mail addresses with which a person has corresponded, or even to
unmask the identity of a person who has posted anonymous speech on a political
The provision also allows the FBI to forbid or "gag" anyone who
receives an NSL from telling anyone about the record demand.
(Inter Press Service)