Joan Claybrook Speaks Out on Secrecy

What are the effects of so much unnecessary secrecy in our government?  Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen, explains why it is a threat to democracy and what Congress needs to do about it:

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.