In This Issue: [click on the link to go to the corresponding section]
In response to a suit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and a coalition of historians and other open government advocates, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction ordering Vice President Dick Cheney and the National Archives to preserve all of his official records. The order will prevent the Vice President from destroying any records before a court determines what is the extent of the Vice President’s record-keeping obligations.
Representatives of several coalition partners, including American Association of Law Libraries, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), and the Society of American Archivists, were quoted by New York Times staff writer Robert Pear in "In Digital Age, Federal Files Blip Into Oblivion". The story discusses the loss of millions of potentially important records caused by the federal government’s haphazard approach to preserving email and other electronic records.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a letter, signed by OpenTheGovernment.org, several coalition partners, and others, urging Congress to exert oversight over a proposal to extend the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) investigatory powers relating to terrorism. The letter urges Congress to ask FBI Director Mueller what mechanisms will ensure the new authorities will not be abused, how the information collected will be used and how long the information will be stored.
On Wednesday, September 17th, OMB Watch celebrated 25 years of promoting government accountability and citizen participation. The event included inducting coalition members Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive and Rick Engler of the New Jersey Work Environment Council and others into the "Public Interest Hall of Fame," and presentation of a special award to Conrad Martin of the Fund for Constitutional Government.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee published The ‘War on Terror’ and The Constitution, a concise summary of how key anti-terrorism laws and policies enacted since September 11, 2001, affect Americans’ constitutional rights.
Public Citizen, on behalf of the Make it SAFE Coalition and other whistleblower supporters (including OpenTheGovernment.org and several coalition partners) launched the online Citizen’s Whistleblower Petition. Over 200 public interest organizations have told Congress passing a strong whistleblower protection bill is a priority. Now individuals can too!
Over the weekend, the public learned that section 2(b)(2) and section 8 of the Legislative Proposal for Treasury Authority to Purchase Mortgage-Related Assets would make any decisions by the Secretary of the Treasury non-reviewable by courts or administrative agencies. Further, public contracts associated with the proposal could be created outside of existing laws normally governing such actions. Open government advocates, including many coalition partners, are opposing these proposals.
Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, presented testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives on Wednesday, September 17th. Other witnesses included the Archivist of the United States, Allen Weinstein, Tom Blanton, Director of coalition partner the National Security Archive, and other open government advocates.The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) was created within the National Archives Records Administration (NARA) by a provision of the OPEN Government Act, PL 110-175. During the hearing, the Archivist made it clear that the Administration believes the office should be located at the Department of Justice (DOJ). Other panelists disagreed, noting that Congress created the office to act as an independent mediator and DOJ would have an inherent conflict of interest since DOJ represents agencies in FOIA suits. In addition to agreeing that OGIS should be within NARA, McDermott’s remarks focused on making sure that during the implementation of OGIS, the office is able to carry out its authority to ensure compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and that there is a clear and transparent mechanism for public input on agency compliance and needed changes. All testimony is available on the Subcommittee website.
Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, submitted written testimony for a September 16th hearing of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee on "Restoring the Rule of Law." The testimony focuses on initiatives to make openness the government’s default position for information and to make current transparency and accountability structures work for the public. During the hearing, the Subcommittee heard from legal and historical experts on what steps the next president and the next Congress must take to reestablish appropriate checks and balances in a variety of areas, including warrantless wiretapping, abuse of executive privilege, excessive government secrecy, violations of privacy and misleading Congress. Several coalition members submitted testimony; all testimony is available on Subcommittee Chairman Russ Feingold’s hearing page. A webcast of the hearing is available on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s site.
OpenTheGovernment.org thanks our coalition partners and other supporters for helping us promote the 2008 Secrecy Report Card. This year’s report has been covered by a wide variety of media outlets and has been discussed on several blogs. The coverage also has included several editorials against the continued expansion of government secrecy. In addition, the Director has given several radio interviews. Read (and hear) some of the coverage here.