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
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.