OTG Releases New Report Highlighting Challenges to Transparency in Washington, a Growing Surveillance State, and Attacks on Press Freedoms

Friday, March 9, 2018



Report Examines Evidence of Increased Secrecy at White House, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security

WASHINGTON – Open The Government (OTG) released its new report today, Closing Democracy’s Window: The Growing Culture of Secrecy in Washington and the Erosion of the Public’s Right to Know, at a Newseum forum in advance of Sunshine Week 2018 (March 11-17). During the panel discussion in the Knight TV studio, OTG’s Executive Director, Lisa Rosenberg, revealed what the organization’s policy experts discovered in the report.

Closing Democracy’s Window found:During the first year of the current administration, we have witnessed a rapid erosion of openness, the crumbling of norms, frequent and ongoing disparagement of the media, efforts to stonewall information requests, manipulation of data, and outright suppression of facts.”

The growing culture of unwarranted secrecy is increasingly the rule, rather than the exception,” said Open The Government Executive Director Lisa Rosenberg. “At the White House and in many agencies, transparency seems to be perceived as an enemy, rather than an indispensable ally in the service of safeguarding our democracy. By highlighting the problems, we can begin to work together in a nonpartisan way to find solutions that promote knowledge and provide access to as much information as possible.”

To document the first year of the Trump Administration, Closing Democracy’s Window closely reviews transparency and openness in the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security; agencies selected for their high profile and their impact on important public policies.

Closing Democracy’s Window reports on journalists’ experiences as they encounter increasing challenges and new obstacles to doing their jobs. The study found that some journalists report that they have had to adapt, for example, by filing FOIA requests in states to obtain information that is denied by federal agencies.  

“Journalists are the quintessential canary in the coal mine,” said Open The Government’s Lisa Rosenberg. “If these investigative experts, who have the time, resources, and training are stymied in their search for information, it gives little hope to average citizens to hold their government accountable.”

The report also puts a spotlight on advocates who represent people impacted by government secrecy and who describe the ways in which a lack of transparency causes harm. For example, Closing Democracy’s Window takes an in-depth look at how President Trump’s travel ban adversely affected families who were caught in a web of chaos and confusion, due to the secrecy surrounding the new policy’s abrupt rollout.

Closing Democracy’s Window explores the growing surveillance state, in which Americans’ personal data is secretly collected in venues, such as airports, and then shared without their knowledge. Surveillance and privacy concerns have also increased in immigration enforcement, growing and metastasizing from programs initiated under the Obama Administration.    

“Every citizen should read Closing Democracy’s Window to learn about how transparency in government is increasingly in jeopardy and why this development may impact their lives,” said Open The Government’s Lisa Rosenberg. “Decreasing secrecy and promoting transparency will advance accountability, preserving and fortifying our democracy.”

Closing Democracy’s Window was written by Open The Government policy analysts Emily Manna and Jesse Franzblau, to coincide with Sunshine Week 2018, an annual event that celebrates the incalculable contribution of openness and transparency to our society. It also seeks to warn of looming threats to the public’s right to know. 

Open The Government is an inclusive, nonpartisan coalition that works to strengthen our democracy and empower the public by advancing policies that create a more open, accountable, and responsive government.