In This Issue:
News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. Administration Hears Groups Out on State Secrets Issues, Makes No Commitments
II. OpenTheGovernment.org Steering Committee Welcomes New Members, Announces Other Changes
III. PIDB Holds Public Meeting on Transforming Classification
Almost 100 advocates representing open government organizations across the country met in Providence, RI from May 20 to 21 during the National Freedom of Information Coalition’s (NFOIC) 2011 FOI Summit. As the keynote speaker, OpenTheGovernment.org co-founder Gary Bass of OMB Watch, delivered the inaugural Dale R. Spencer Freedom Talk. This year’s inductee into the State Open Government Hall of Fame, John R. Finnegan Sr., former senior vice president and assistant publisher of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, was introduced by OpenTheGovernment.org Steering Committee member Lucy Dalglish. Patrice McDermott moderated a panel on the implications and aftereffects of WikiLeaks for open government.
OpenTheGovernment.org and several of our coalition partners have signed on to an effort by the Project on Government Oversight – POGO to oppose a draft bill by Representative Michael Grimm (R-NY) that would gut the new whistleblower award programs at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) enacted in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. As a letter from the groups to leadership of the House Financial Services Committee points out, the SEC and CFTC have carefully considered the concerns of all stakeholders while preparing to issue their final rules to implement these programs. The Grimm proposal, on the other hand, resembles the proposals made by industry without consideration for the stakeholders the whistleblower rules are designed to protect: investors and taxpayers. Undermining the substantial investment of time and resources in crafting a system that creates incentives and promises protections for men and women who blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse before they have even been put in practice would be a radical and unwarranted step. See POGO’s press release HERE.
Last week a small contingent of representatives from open government and civil liberties organizations had a frank discussion with Administration officials about the limitations of their State Secrets policy, and issues with its implementation. During the meeting, the two groups exchanged ideas about how the privilege can and should be used to protect real national interests while protecting against abuse of the privilege to hide information that may be merely embarrassing if released and without unduly impinging on civil liberties. During the meeting the Administration also finally acknowledged a letter from many of the organizations asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to comment on whether, when litigation had been blocked by the government’s invocation of the state secrets privilege, credible allegations of government wrongdoing had been referred to relevant Inspectors General (IGs)- as the Administrations September 2009 policy requires. The groups recently made the letter public after the Supreme Court declined to take up Mohamed et al. v Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc., a decision that shuts the door on both justice for victims of rendition and torture and on accountability for the government officials who designed and carried out these programs. While a referral of credible claims is no substitute for civil litigation, it does enable the IG to document and expose government wrongdoing, and prescribe corrective actions. In response, the officials held that it is their policy to not comment on IG referrals. According to Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, "The public already knows that these credible allegations of government wrong-doing exist. Refusing to comment on whether or not they have been referred to the IG – as the Administration’s policy requires- undermines both the policy and the public’s trust in government."
We are happy to announce the election of two new Steering Committee members: Lynne Bradley of the American Library Association (ALA) and Kevin Goldberg of the American Society of News Editors (ASNE). ALA and ASNE have a long history of active participation in the coalition, and our Steering Committee will benefit greatly from the breadth and depth of experience and knowledge Lynne and Kevin will bring to the body. We also welcome the strong additions of Sean Moulton of OMB Watch and John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation.
The approaching departure of Gary Bass from OMB Watch has also triggered a series of changes to the structure of the Committee. Since co-founding the coalition in 2006, Gary and Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive have provided the coalition with priceless leadership vision as co-chairs. The duo turned over reins of the Steering Committee to Danielle Brian of POGO this April. Gary will remain on the Committee as a founder and a representative of the Bauman Family Foundation. Join us on facebook to see photos from a reception the Fund for Constitutional Government hosted to honor Gary, Tom and Danielle.
The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) met with the public and several open-government organizations on Thursday, May 26th at the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA). The Board’s discussion was based on white papers and comments posted to the board’s blog, Transforming Classification. The meeting also included presentations on papers recently added to the blog by representatives of several organizations. These included OpenTheGovernment.org Steering Committee Member Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, Harry Cooper of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice.
Each speaker presented a proposal for preventing or managing over-classification of federal documents. Common ideas were centralization and streamlining of the declassification process in an effort to limit bureaucratic delays, as well as a construction of incentives and penalties in order to combat the culture of over-classification. PIDB’s proposals, and all of the papers submitted by the public, are open to comment on their blog until June 12th.