Policy and News Update for November 30, 2011

In This Issue:

News from Coalition Partners & Others
I. WH Releases Memo on Improving the Management of Government Records
II. Leahy Amendment to Address DOD Secrecy May Soon Be Up for a Vote

News from Coalition Partners & Others


Partners Applaud House Bipartisan Advancement Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act

Several coalition partners joined in sending a letter to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee applauding their efforts to garner bipartisan support for HR 3289, Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2011, and their decision to quickly call the bill up for a Committee vote. The bill was unanimously approved on November 3 and has yet to be placed on the House calendar.

GAP’s Radack and Client, Drake, Presented with Sam Adams Awards

The Government Accountability Project’s (GAP) National Security and Human Rights Director Jesselyn Radack and GAP client and National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake received the Sam Adams Award from Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence on November 21. The honor is presented to intelligence professionals who have taken stands for ethics and integrity. Speakers at the ceremony include Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) whistleblower Coleen Rowley (a previous winner of the award), retired Col. Larry Wilkerson (another winner), American University Nuclear Studies Institute professor Peter Kuznick, and veteran CIA analyst and activist Ray McGovern. Learn more about the ceremony here.

Reporters Committee Joins ASNE as National Co-Sponsor of Open Government Effort

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) will serve as co-sponsors with the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) for Sunshine Week 2012 (March 11-17). Sunshine Week is a national initiative celebrated during the week of James Madison’s birthday to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. See the announcement, and learn more about the 2012 celebration here.

CREW Organizes Support for Opening Up Supreme Court Health Care Oral Arguments

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) organized support from a broad coalition of organizations, including OpenTheGovernment.org and several coalition partners, on a letter to Chief Justice Roberts asking that he allow the live telecast of the unusual 5.5 hours of oral arguments in the cases surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Allowing cameras in the courtroom would provide every American the opportunity to hear and assess the arguments in real time. In the alternative, Americans will be forced to rely only on after-the-fact news reports, or wait for the Court to release audio recordings afterwards.


I. WH Releases Memo on Improving the Management of Government Record

On November 28, the White House released a Presidential Memorandum on Managing Government Records that takes critical steps towards improving the dismal state of records management, especially electronic records, in the federal government. The National Archives Records Administration’s (NARA) 2010 Records Management Self-Assessment found that 95% of federal agencies self-report they are at risk of losing electronic records. We know from past experiences that failing to properly manage records, especially email, creates an unacceptable risk of losing valuable information that is necessary to understand the development of national policies and to hold officials accountable for their decisions.

The President’s Memo puts in place a structure for agencies and the Administration to begin putting in place policies and practices that support efficient and effective records management by identifying obstacles– including the lack of adequate resources—and ideas for improvement. The Archivist and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in coordination with the Associate Attorney General, will use input gathered from agencies to create a Records Management Directive that directs agency heads to take specific steps to reform and improve records management policies and practices.

As we noted in our joint statement with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), we are particularly concerned that given the current strain on agency budgets, lack of funding will be a major hurdle, and we urge the Administration to continue to send the message that investing in good records management is a priority, and to help agencies secure adequate resources to find solutions.

II. Leahy Amendment to Address DOD Secrecy May Soon Be Up for a Vote

Last week the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), formally submitted an amendment to S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 to significantly narrow a provision that would allow the Department of Defense (DOD) to keep secret a broad swath of information that relates to "critical infrastructure information." Several coalition partners signed on to a letter in support of the amendment, which is similar to an amendment offered by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and passed by the House during debate over the House version of the bill (HR 1540).

As we have discussed previously, giving DOD the power to withhold information under the broad rubric of "critical infrastructure information" is a bad idea because DOD has a track record of using similar authority to hide information that is critical to public health and safety. For example, as our friends at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) have reported, DOD used such authority to keep Marines and their families in the dark about contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejune, NC.

Once the Senate finishes voting on S. 1867, it will move to a Conference Committee where the negotiators from the House and the Senate will decide on a final version of the bill before bringing it back to both Houses for a final vote.