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Secrecy Report 2013 --The Tip of the Iceberg

WASHINGTON, October 1, 2013 – Today’s release of the 2013 Secrecy Report, the 9th annual review and analysis of indicators of secrecy in the federal government by OpenTheGovernment.org, comes amid shocking revelations that cast doubt on the accuracy and the meaningfulness of the government’s statistics about surveillance. As is highlighted in the introduction to this report and in comments provided to OpenTheGovernment.org by former-Representative Mickey Edwards (R-OK), the government’s insistence on keeping interpretations of the law secret and a lack of oversight by Congress and the Judicial Branch helped set the stage for a surveillance program that is much broader than previously believed.

According to Patrice McDermott, Executive Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, “Measuring secrecy, as we do in the Secrecy Report, is a critical exercise because it allows us to both sound the alarm when the government is not being open and accountable to the public and call attention to areas where positive changes are occurring.”

The results of this year’s assessment show that while there have been some reductions in secrecy during the Obama Administration’s tenure, the change is slow. And, particularly in areas related to national security, the extent of secrecy remains unchanged, or continues to grow. Overall, the rate of change is well below what it would take to make the government open and accountable.

Among the notable mixed signals:

  • Agencies continue to make progress in reducing their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request backlog. But requesters must still wait far too long to get a response and there has been a dramatic increase in decisions to withhold information about government deliberations.
  • The number of people with the authority to create new secrets continues to drop. But the growing volume of classified material still overwhelms the government’s declassification efforts, and far too much material is marked at a classification level beyond its risk to national security.

Dr. McDermott said, “If the Administration wants to meet President Obama’s goal of unprecedented levels of openness in government, it will require bold steps and persistent follow-through.” As a special section for this year’s Secrecy Report, we present 5 Big Ideas to kick-start the kinds of massive changes needed to create noticeable difference in the level of secrecy in the federal government. “Some of the steps we outline might be harder than others,” Dr. McDermott continued, “but each is a necessary, if insufficient, step towards creating a government that is transparent about its actions and accountable to the public.”

 

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