Policy and News Updates for May 30, 2007

Policy Updates

[new] Another secret hold on openness
Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the OPEN Government Act (S. 849), sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy [D-VT] and Sen. John Cornyn [R-TX], which would update and strengthen the Freedom of Information Act. On May 17th, 101 groups, including partners of OpenTheGovernment.org, sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Mitch McConnell urging them to support the OPEN Government Act and bring it to the Senate floor for a vote.

Despite strong bi-partisan support, an anonymous Republican Senator placed a hold on the bill last week, preventing it from reaching the Senate floor. In a statement, Sen. Leahy said, "It is both unfortunate and ironic that this bipartisan bill, which promotes sunshine and openness in our government, is being hindered by a secret and anonymous hold. This is a good government bill that Democrats and Republicans alike, can and should work together to enact."

On March 14, 2007, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 308-117, approved its version of the legislation, H.R. 1309.

TAKE ACTION: You can help find the secret Senator! The Society of Professional Journalists is leading the way to unmask the Senator. You can help by calling your Senator and reporting your findings.

[new] Senate will disclose defense earmarks
On May 24, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved language in the Defense Authorization bill which improves disclosure of Congressional earmarks and adds whistleblower protections for employees of federal defense contractors. The earmark amendment requires that all earmarks be fully disclosed, including the name of the sponsor and location of the program. Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain [R-AZ] and Sen. Claire McCaskill [D-MO], sponsored the language.

In another push for transparency, Sen. McCaskill also tried to open the normally closed-door Senate Armed Services Committee markup to the public. McCaskill declared her opposition to committee secrecy in a roll call vote to close a committee meeting on the defense authorization bill last week. Sen. McCaskill said, "We’re deciding how to spend billions of dollars of taxpayer money, and we’re doing it behind closed doors. This is the public’s business, this is their money – the public needs to be in the room." No other Senator joined her call for openness, but she said she hopes others will join her in the future.

News from Coalition Partners and Others

[new] A Success: Whistleblower Week in Washington
During the week of May 13-19, whistleblowers convened in Washington, D.C. for a series of events to share information and rally support. Whistleblower Week events included an award ceremony for Sen. Charles Grassley [R-IA], panel discussions, and training sessions.

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