2010 Secrecy Report Card Released

The 2010 Secrecy Report Card was recently released by the watchdog group OpenTheGovernment.org. The report shows a continued decrease in most indicators of secrecy since the end of the Bush Administration and growing backlogs in the declassification system as old secrets move through the system. The report covers the first 9 months of President Obama’s Administration.

OpenTheGovernment.org is a coalition of more than 70 groups advocating for open government, including the National Coalition for History.

The issues discussed in the Report Card include: classified Information and classified costs, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), signing statements, use of state secrets, and more.

According to Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, “Encouraging trends are evident in these early months of the Obama Administration, in both FOIA and in general secrecy. In general, after hitting high water marks during the Bush Administration, statistics indicate the creation of new national security secrets is slowly ebbing.” In FY 2009, for example, the number of original classification decisions, the “sole sources of newly classified information,” decreased almost 10% to 183,224—down from 203,541 in 2008.

The statistics also indicate, however, that the declassification system continues to fall further behind. For example, in FY 2009, the government spent $196 maintaining the secrets already on the books for every one dollar spent declassifying documents. Only one-half cent of every dollar spent on security classifications costs overall was spent on declassification, and 8% fewer pages were declassified than in 2008. Overall, expenditures to maintain secrecy increased 2%.

The only indicators covered by the report that may reflect the Administration’s open government initiative concern the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In FY 2009, the federal government processed 55,000 more FOIA requests than it received in 2009 and reduced backlogged pending requests by almost 56,000.