NEW YORK – The administration of President George W. Bush has steadily expanded government secrecy across a broad array of agencies and actions, according to a coalition of groups that promote greater transparency.
Dr. Patrice McDermott, director of Open the Government, a watchdog group, said, “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 (Freedom of Information Act) requests, less on training on classification issues, and almost $200 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 groups, journalists and others.
The coalition said 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.
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 2008 Department of Defense acquisition funding requested last year. Classified acquisition funding has more than doubled in real terms since fiscal year 1995.
Almost 22 million requests were received under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2007, an increase of almost two 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 committed 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 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 years.
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. (IPS/GIN)