Policy and News Updates for March 23, 2006

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Policy Updates for March 23, 2006

[updated] Reclassification of Documents leads to investigation
Thousands of declassified documents were removed from public access from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the National Security Archive revealed. The National Archives halted the reclassification program until its Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) finishes an audit of the reclassified documents.
Status: Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) held a hearing on this and other classification problems on March 14.
Sources: NARA press release on the investigation and ISOO audit; Secrecy News from Feb. 23 and March 3; Secret Again: The absurd scheme to reclassify documents [Slate]; Prepared testimony for the March 14 hearing [via Project on Government Secrecy]; Spotlight on Secrecy and Overclassification [OMB Watcher]

[updated] Washington corruption spurs proposals for reform
Congressional Democratic and Republican leaders rushed to propose fixes to Washington’s corruption scandals after super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff pled guilty to conspiracy, tax and fraud charges. Both parties continue to debate lobbying reform while legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate.
Status: The Senate will vote on S. 2349 (the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act) on March 27. House Republican leadership introduced H.R. 4975 (the Lobbying Accountability and Transparency Act) on March 16.
Sources: S.2349; H.R. 4975; OMB Watch’s Lobbying Reform & Government Ethics Resource Center; Links to bills and member floor statements [moresoftmoneyhardlaw.com]

[updated] Whistleblower protections stalled in Congress
Last year, House and Senate committees approved legislation (S. 494 and H.R. 1317) which will restore the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 (WPA), strengthening the free speech rights of whistleblowers and assuring many other protections. The bill does not protect whistleblowers in national security and intelligence agencies. New comprehensive legislation introduced on March 9 by Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) would establish consistent rights for federal government, corporate and military whistleblowers.
Status: S. 494 and H.R. 1317 passed through committee and are awaiting an "up or down" vote. The Markey-Maloney bill was introduced on March 9.
Sources: S.494; H.R. 1317; Markey-Maloney bill (pdf) [via NSWBC]; Government Accountability Project
Alert: Free the Whistleblower Protection Act! [S.494/H.R.1317]

[updated] Secret spying heats up
Secrecy limited oversight and debate over controversial National Security Agency (NSA) plans to spy on Americans without a court order. On March 15, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) introduced the "Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006," which would give congressional approval to the wiretapping program as it currently exists. On the other extreme end, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) is calling for censure of the president for what he calls President Bush’s "illegal program." Sen. Arlen Specter’s (R-PA) bill would require the administration to get permission to eavesdrop from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court.
Status: The Senate Judiciary Committee has held two hearings on the legality of the program.
Sources: Terrorist Surveillance Act of 2006 (pdf) [via CDT]; Feingold seeks censure of president [CNN]; Specter bill (pdf) [via CDT]; Specter Proposes NSA Surveillance Rules; CDT NSA Briefing Book


News from Coalition Partners and Others

[new] Government-wide audit on sensitive unclassified information
The National Security Archive at The George Washington University published a government-wide audit (pdf) of federal agencies’ policies on sensitive unclassified information, exposing inconsistent and uncoordinated policies. OpenTheGovernment.org’s Secrecy Report Card 2005 (pdf) includes an encyclopedia of "restrictions on unclassified information" that agencies use to keep information secret.

[new] Fun, animated video highlights growing secrecy
Honoring the success of Sunshine Week (March 12-18), OpenTheGovernment.org released a flash video, a fun look at the not-so-funny problem of growing government secrecy. Learn more about your right to know in the League of Women’s Voters resource guide, Looking for Sunshine: Protecting Your Right to Know"