WASHINGTON—Representatives Katie Porter (CA-45), Jackie Speier (CA-14), and Francis Rooney (FL-19) announced a bipartisan proposal yesterday that would increase public accountability for the Pentagon. Their measure requires the Department of Defense to put all unclassified reports on a publicly accessible website.
Each year, the Pentagon is required to report on dozens of topics ranging from projected defense spending, to military sexual assault, to countering Iranian influence. The law already requires some reports to be public, but such requirements are often ignored. Existing law also encourages the Pentagon to release any other reports that it reasonably can, though in practice that rarely happens.
“Our government doesn’t work unless it is held accountable to the American people,” said Congresswoman Porter, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. “There is absolutely no reason that these unclassified studies should not be readily available to the public, the press, and Members of Congress. Waste, fraud, and abuse at the Pentagon do not keep Orange County families safe, and we deserve access to these reports paid for by our tax dollars.”
“It’s offensive and counterproductive—yet disturbingly typical—for the Department of Defense to hide unclassified reports that are required by law, especially when these reports contain information they don’t want the public to see,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee. “It’s Congress’s duty to put a stop to the Department’s efforts to deep six bad news, especially when that bad news pertains to the misuse or abuse of taxpayer funds. I am proud to offer this amendment with Reps. Porter and Rooney at the upcoming markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, and urge our committee colleagues to join us in fulfilling our oversight role.”
“Oversight of taxpayer dollars is essential in any agency, but especially when it comes to one as large as the Department of Defense (DOD),” said Congressman Rooney, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Congress must hold all agencies accountable and transparent, including in the release of material deemed to be unclassified and safe for release to the public. This bipartisan NDAA amendment will allow the American people as well as Members of Congress to receive more accurate information pertaining to the performance of the DOD.”
The bipartisan proposal would eliminate a loophole in existing law that lets the Pentagon decide when it would be “practicable,” to make reports public, even when they do not contain any classified information. It would also require the Pentagon to certify if there are reasons a congressionally mandated report cannot be released.
Some examples of reports that are required to be unclassified, but are not publicly available, include:
In addition, examples of reports that are explicitly required by Congress to be public, but have recently been withheld, include:
Speier, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Chair of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, will propose the amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It was developed in close collaboration with Rooney, a Republican member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Porter, a Democratic member of the Committee on Oversight and Reform. It is also supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition of veterans and government accountability groups.
“Restoring the balance of power between Congress and the executive branch requires transparency,” said Nate Anderson, Executive Director of Concerned Veterans for America. “Access to unclassified data issued by the Department of Defense is key to exercising accountability, empowering decision makers, and ensuring Americans know where their tax dollars are going.”
“Our military performs at its best when it answers to the American public and their representatives,” said Will Goodwin, Director of Government Relations for VoteVets. “When Congress requires the Pentagon to report on its unclassified activities, that information should be available to the American people. Our military personnel and their families put so much on the line for our national security, and keeping this information public allows us to ensure the Department is doing right by those brave Americans.”
“It’s about time the Pentagon makes its unclassified reports readily available to the public,” said Mandy Smithberger, Director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight. “The American taxpayers have a right to see where their taxpayer dollars are going, and Congress must have access to the reports to conduct effective oversight and make smart policy decisions. It’s great to see bipartisan consensus on this common sense issue.”
“Congress may authorize close to three quarters of a trillion dollars in defense spending this upcoming fiscal year. With any authorization of taxpayer dollars—and especially with authorizations this large—transparency, accountability, and public reporting are critical to improving trust between citizens and their government,” said Andrew Lautz, Policy and Government Affairs Manager, National Taxpayers Union. “This proposal from Representatives Porter, Speier, and Rooney would fill critical gaps by ensuring timely action from the Department of Defense on the publication of congressionally mandated reports. We applaud these lawmakers for their effort and encourage this proposal to be included in whichever version of the National Defense Authorization Act is ultimately signed into law.”
Other organizations supporting this bipartisan effort include the Center for American Progress, R Street Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Common Defense, Federation for American Scientists, Open the Government, and Protect Democracy.