It seems every day we see another headline describing an assault on accountable government. The attacks come at such an unrelenting pace, we risk becoming inured to secrecy, obfuscation and misinformation, threats to the media, disregard of the rule of law, and efforts to weaken congressional oversight. Instead of accepting as the new normal the weakening of our democratic institutions, we take solace in continuing to defend our democracy, and our triumphs in the face of so many obstacles remind us why we have made an unwavering commitment to work toward an open and accountable U.S. government.
During this year’s Sunshine Week, Open the Government shed light on the weak transparency requirements and accountability mechanisms for private companies that provide technology to the government, enabling these companies to profit from taxpayer dollars while concealing much of their work. Our report, Government Inc.: Amazon, Government Security & Secrecy, detailed the secretive technologies that large private contractors supply government agencies to advance immigration enforcement, policing, surveillance and national security objectives. Our report also made recommendations for more transparency and oversight requirements when corporations act as a proxy for the government. Bloomberg’s Naomi Nix moderated OTG’s panel discussion on the topic during the well-attended National Freedom of Information Day conference, where the report was released. We also welcomed Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif), who gave special remarks on facial recognition technology and the need for congressional oversight over tech contractors.
The Freedom of Information Act continued to be an invaluable mechanism for accountability. OTG and coalition partner Project On Government Oversight used a FOIA request to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to secure the release of internal documents confirming the existence of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, despite DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s assertions to the contrary. Our findings garnered interest from national print and broadcast outlets. Even our tweet about this revelation went viral! During a House Judiciary Committee hearing several months later, members of Congress aggressively challenged Nielson on her claims based on our findings. In another successful FOIA partnership, OTG and the ACLU DC office filed a FOIA request that pressured the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to release arrest data from 2013 to 2017. The data showed that in a city with a 47 percent African American population, more than 80 percent of arrests made were of African Americans. The data confirms what many have long suspected about racial disparities in policing, and is the first, crucial step to demanding accountability of the MPD.
In our efforts to improve national security by decreasing secrecy, OTG used a different tactic to inform the public about America’s endless wars. We hosted six expert roundtable discussions and a media workshop to encourage Americans to start asking more questions about where, why, and for how long the country will remain at war. We developed America’s Forever Wars and the Secrecy that Sustains Them: A Citizen’s Guide to give the public a tool to help them demand information about the United States’ military operations. We took the Citizen’s Guide on the road to raise awareness at events in several cities around the country, and we will continue this important effort throughout 2019.
-Executive Director’s Note
Read the full report here.