Government secrecy is a threat to our democracy

An open and accountable government is a cornerstone of our democracy. As Americans, it is our right and our duty to know how government operates; transparency is one of the great checks we have against corruption and tyranny. Yet, during the past seven years, President Bush has gone to extremes to keep the workings of his administration in the shadows, away from public scrutiny.

His assertions of executive privilege, his restrictive views of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), his overreaching use of the national security classification and his outright refusal to comply with congressional requests for information and other acts have made his the most secretive presidency of modern times.

As we mark Sunshine Week, the need to stand up against these threats to our freedom has never been more apparent. On Wednesday, Public Citizen will co-host an online forum to discuss government secrecy. One of the most important aspects of this discussion will be what people can do to restore transparency to government.

Public Citizen has fought hard against the White House’s attempts to shut citizens out of government. Last year we helped to pass the first reforms to FOIA in more than a decade. We also sued the Bush administration over the 2001 Executive Order 13233 that limits public access to the records of past presidents. Last fall, a federal court stuck down part of the order, ruling that Bush’s order violated a requirement of the Presidential Records Act.

Now is the time to make a stand. Congress is considering several measures that are crucial toward restoring government accountability. The Presidential Records Act Amendments (H.R. 1225/S. 886) would override all of Bush’s executive order and prevent him from undermining the intent of the Presidential Records Act, an important post-Watergate law. The House and Senate have passed protections for government workers who blow the whistle on waste fraud and abuse (H.R. 985 and S. 274) must be reconciled and enacted. In addition, it’s time that the Senate finally pass the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act (S. 223) and make its elections records electronic and accessible to the public as the House does.

It’s time to end our government’s “time in the shadows” and reinvigorate the legacy of Sunshine Laws that have made transparency and accountability an American trademark.