On September 29, Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Project on Government Secrecy posted an August 4th draft of an Obama Administration executive order on national security classification policy. The review of the policy, ordered by President Obama on May 27, was informed by public opinion through an extensive process, but administration officials denied a request from open government advocates that they release a draft version for public comment. Read Steven Aftergood’s analysis, and download a side-by-side comparison of the draft and the existing order, here.
On September 28, several coalition partners including Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive, Kevin Goldberg for the American Society of News Editors, and John Verdi of Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), participated in the 3rd Annual International Right-To-Know Day Celebration presented by the Collaboration on Government Secrecy at the American University Washington College of Law. A keynote address was given by Alasdair S. Roberts, Professor of Law and Public Policy at Suffolk University Law School; the event also included presentations from the Information Commissioners of Norway and Scotland via audio connection at the Sixth International Conference of Information Commissioners in Oslo, Norway, and Miriam Nisbet, the newly-installed Director of the Office of Government Information Services at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
On September 30th, Meredith Fuchs, General Counsel for the National Security Archive, offered testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on improvements in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request processing since the 2007 FOIA amendments went into effect and persistent backlogs that continue to plague the system. During the hearing, titled " Advancing Freedom of Information in the New Era of Responsibility," the panel also heard testimony from Thomas Perrelli, Associate Attorney General of the Department of Justice and the Department’s Chief FOIA Officer; Tom Curley, President and CEO of the Associated Press; and Miriam Nisbet, Founding Director of the Office of Government Information Services at NARA.
On September 23, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a new policy on the use of the state secrets privilege. As chronicled in OpenTheGovernment.org’s Secrecy Report Card 2009, advocates have been deeply disappointed and troubled by the expansive use of the privilege by the Obama administration. The new policy establishes some important checks and balances on the use of the privilege, including a new review process within DOJ; limits on the administration’s ability to seek dismissal of an entire case based on the application of the privilege; narrowing nondisclosure to evidence of strict national security concern; requires periodic reports on the use of the privilege from DOJ to Congress; and charges Inspector Generals (IGs) with oversight of credible allegations of government wrongdoing, regardless of whether the privilege is invoked. Critical questions remain, including how the policy will be implemented, judicial review of claims, and whether legislation is necessary. OpenTheGovernment.org and our coalition partners will continue to review the policy and pending legislative proposals to develop recommendations for next steps.
On September 25, NARA submitted its Report on Alternative Models for Presidential Libraries to Congress. In mid-April, several coalition partners joined OpenTheGovernment.org in sending a response to a request for input (RFI) from NARA urging the Archives to take full account of the effect any alternative model may have on the public’s ability to gain access to important historical documents and on NARA’s obligation to provide the public with timely access to important historical documents. In the RFI NARA proposed significant changes to how records are processed and made available, including processing records systematically rather than pursuant to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, which could have had a negative impact on public access; the report, however, contains no such recommendations.
Prior to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s September 30th FOIA oversight hearing, OpenTheGovernment.org sent Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) a letter thanking him for his tireless commitment to protecting and advancing government transparency through the FOIA. Several coalition partners were among the over 80 organizations and individuals concerned with government openness and accountability signed on to the letter.
On October 1, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held a confirmation hearing for David S. Ferriero to be Archivist of the United States. The nomination still must be approved by the Committee and the full Senate. Track the progress of his nomination here.
Also on October 1, the Senate Judiciary Committee began marking up the S. 1692, USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2009. Overall, advocates are disappointed with the results of Thursday’s mark-up; when the Committee resumes work on the bill next week, we hope the Committee will adopt key reforms that reduce government secrecy in the interest of protecting against intrusions in privacy.