Wednesday, September 10, 2008

U.S. Government Secrecy Continues To Rise

According to the Secrecy Report Card 2008 of the U.S. advocacy group OpenTheGovernment.org, U.S. government secrecy continued to rise in 2007.

It is the organization's fifth annual report assessing trends in public access to information in that Great Republic to the South.

A representative of the American Association of Law Libraries sits on the steering committee of the watchdog group that fights to push back government secrecy.

Among the highlights:
  • The American government spent $195 maintaining the secrets already on the books for every one dollar the government spent declassifying documents in 2007, a 5% increase in one year. At the same time, fewer pages were declassified than in 2006, even though the government spent the same amount of money on declassification. The intelligence agencies, which account for a large segment of the declassification numbers, are excluded from the total reported figures.
  • The total cost of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) implementation in 2007 across the government increased 16%. But a 2008 study by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government (CJOG) revealed that, in 2007, FOIA spending at the 25 agencies it examined fell by $7 million to $233.8 million and the agencies put 209 fewer people to work processing FOIA requests.
  • Almost 22 million FOIA requests were received in 2007, an increase of almost 2% over last year. Agencies are not, however, taking advantage of significant opportunities to reduce their backlogs: the 25 departments and agencies that handle the bulk of the third-party information requests received the fewest requests since reporting began in 1998 — 63,000 fewer than 2006 — but they processed only 2,100 more requests than they did in 2006 (when the backlog soared to a record 39%).
  • On average since 2000, non-competed contract funding makes up more than 25 percent of all awards. In FY 2007, 26.15 percent ($114.1 billion) of federal contract funding was given out without any competition; another 5 percent ($22.9 billion) was awarded without competition because of specific requirements. In 2000, 45 percent of contract dollars were awarded under full and open competition; by 2007, only 33 percent followed such open procedures — a drop of almost 25%.
  • With 2,371 secret surveillance orders approved in 2007, federal surveillance activity under the jurisdiction of the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has risen for the 9th year in a row — more than doubling since 2000.
The report isn't entirely pessimistic, noting some progress in the U.S. Congress where many legislative proposals have been introduced to protect whistleblowers, increase transparency and accountability in federal spending, reduce overclassification of government information, and limit the use of the state secrets privilege.

Related Library Boy posts about Canadian government secrecy include:
  • Freedom of Information: Code of Silence 2006 Award Nominees (May 11, 2006): "The Canadian Association of Journalists has released the list of nominees for its sixth annual Code of Silence Award recognizing the most secretive government agency in Canada (...)."
  • Many Federal Departments Flunk in 2006-2007 Information Commissioner Report Card (May 30, 2007): "In his first annual report, the new federal Information Commissioner Robert Marleau concludes that a great many Canadian government agencies show a serious lack of transparency when it comes to access to government documents under the Access to Information Act : 'Despite much progress since 1983, there remain impediments to the full realization of Parliament’s intent as expressed in the Act. Too often, responses to access requests are late, incomplete, or overly-censored. Too often, access is denied to hide wrongdoing, or to protect officials or governments from embarrassment, rather than to serve a legitimate confidentiality requirement. Year after year, in the pages of these reports, information commissioners recount what is going wrong and offer views on how to make it right'."
  • Media Reports Government Wants to Can Access to Information Database (May 3, 2008): "The Toronto Star is reporting that the federal government is putting an end to the Coordination of Access to Information Requests System (CAIRS), an internal database of every request filed to all federal departments and agencies under the Access to Information Act (ATIA) ... CAIRS was seen by lawyers, reporters, and government watchdog groups as a very useful resource. They could mine the information in the database, approach government departments and request copies of already released documents."

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 6:08 pm

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