Obama administration downplays its modest openness record

Steve Aftergood notes that the Whitehouse seems very ambivalent about its progress toward openness, a record that is admittedly quite thin, but not non-existent.

But curiously, the 33-page document on“The Obama Administration’s Commitment to Open Government” (pdf) downplays or overlooks many of the Administration’s principal achievements  in reducing inappropriate secrecy.  At the same time, it fails to acknowledge the major defects of the openness program to date.  And so it presents a muddled picture of the state of open government, while providing a poor guide to future policy.

Among the few noteworthy acts of the administration in open government include declassifying for the first time ever a President’s Daily Brief (PDB; true not completely, and true from 1968), and revealing the size of the total intelligence budget for the first time. These may not sound like much but they represent a big departure from prior practice.

Aftergood notes that Director of Central intelligence George Tenet stated in sworn testimony in 1998 that revealing this number would damage national security. Last year, the government revealed that figure for the first time: $80.1b including over $3.5b on Iraq and Afghanistan. The total far exceeds the spending on the Dept. of Homeland Security, and is apparently a record high according to WaPo.

Aftergood also notes that it doesn’t mention openness failures either which include much more secrecy overall.

[the report] does not mention that during the first full year of the Obama Administration, the number of new national security secrets (or “original classification decisions”) actually increased by 22.6 percent, according to the latest annual report of the Information Security Oversight Office.  (“Transforming Classification, or Not,” May 18, 2011).  Because it does not include such significant adverse data, the White House report more closely approximates a public relations exercise than a candid account of the current status of openness.

This secrecy is not just an abstract concept, but it also leads to infringments of human rights as he notes in the “case of victims of torture like Maher Arar and Khaled el-Masri [who] are barred by secrecy from presenting evidence in a court of law.”

That the Obama administration is taking part in an “Open Government Partnership” tomorrow with the opening of the UN is quite the joke (the US is Co-Chair and opening remarks will be made by someone from the State Dept.) While I applaud the OGP they could begin with a searching examination of the host.

One response to “Obama administration downplays its modest openness record

  1. Pingback: Obama administration downplays its modest openness record | PDF World

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