OpenTheGovernment.org’s 2009 Secrecy Report Card

OpenTheGovernment.org released the latest edition of their annual Secrecy Report Card today. This year’s report card found slight decreases in government secrecy in the past year, though secrecy remains a serious problem in many areas of the federal government.

Special to this year’s report is an analysis of the Obama Administration’s track record on transparency. Despite many initial promising steps toward government openness, the Administration has disappointed open government groups, including AALL, with a number of decisions that promote secrecy. For example, the Administration has repeatedly used signing statements and the state secrets privilege to keep information secret, despite Obama’s promise to curb the use of both.

AALL is committed to ensuring that the new Administration follows through on its promises of “a new era of open Government.” We will continue to work with OpenTheGovernment.org to promote transparency at all levels of government.

Findings of the 2009 Secrecy Report Card include:

  • Classification Activity Still Remains High
    In 2008, the number of original classification decisions decreased to 203,541, a 13% drop from 2007. The number of “derivative classifications” continues to climb.
  • FOIA Backlogs Slightly Reduced
    The federal government processed 17,689 more FOIA requests than it received in 2008. The net improvement is in part the result of significant backlog progress on the part of a few agencies.
  • Reported Invocations of the State Secrets Privilege Continue to Rise
    Invoked only 6 times between 1953 and 1976, the privilege has been used a reported 48 times—an average of 6 times per year in 8 years (through 2008)—more than double the average (2.46) in the previous 24 years.
  • Scientific and Technical Advice Increasingly Closed to Public
    65% of FACA committee hearings were closed to the public in 2008. The same number of meetings was closed in
    2008 as in 2007, but the total number of meetings fell—leaving fewer opportunities for public
    participation.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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