Report Card Finds Increased Government Secrecy

Government secrecy saw further expansion last year despite growing public concern, according to an annual report released on September 1 by OpenTheGovernment.org. The 2007 Secrecy Report Card, which identifies trends in public access to information, found a lack of transparency in military procurement, increased assertions of executive privilege, and expansion of “sensitive” categories of information, among other areas.

In 2006, the public’s use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) continued to rise. Agency backlogs are significant and the oldest FOIA request in the federal government has now been pending for more than 20 years.

The report cites many indicators of growing secrecy, including:

Since 2001, the “state secrets” privilege (the executive branch power to impose secrecy with little opportunity for appeal or judicial review) has been used a reported 39 times – an average of six times per year in 6.5 years that is more than double the average (2.46) in the previous 24 years.

In 2006, 26 percent ($107.5 billion) of federal contracts dollars were completely uncompeted; only one-third of contracts dollars are subject to full and open competition.

In six years, President Bush has issued at least 151 signing statements, challenging 1,149 provisions of laws. Of these challenges, 85 percent have been on “constitutional” grounds. Such challenges make it difficult for the public to know that the laws are “faithfully executed” as required by the U.S. Constitution.

A 2007 Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report on secret wiretap warrants indicated that the government made 143,074 National Security Letter requests in the period 2003-2005. The number for 2006 remains classified. These requests can be used to obtain information about individuals without the government applying for a court-reviewed warrant.

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