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The See-Through Government

Nov 20, 2008
Is anyone paying attention? Probably not, since our government has been moving rapidly from a right-to-know to a need-to-know basis for the past eight, 30, 200 years or so. And for the past eight at least, our government has decided we need to know pretty much nothing beyond the barest and most mundane matters.

Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Secrecy is for losers.” A democracy requires an informed citizenry to function properly, yet as far back as the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention (both held outside public view), our federal government, especially the Executive branch, has preferred to act under a cloak of secrecy from the public it represents. According to Bill Moyers, “LBJ had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony” for the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966 and Gerald Ford, with the urging of a trio of characters in his administration named Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Scalia, actually vetoed FOIA amendments in 1974 (and saw his veto easily overridden by Congress).

Now, scores of organizations and individuals across the political spectrum, spearheaded by OMBWatch, have joined forces as the “21st Century Right to Know Project.” They have produced a comprehensive report detailing secrecy in government, together with 70 recommendations to the Obama administration for opening up government to public scrutiny, entitled Moving Toward a 21st Century Right-to-Know Agenda (.pdf).

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests can take decades to fulfill.1,2 And secrecy comes in many flavors, including utilizing multiple levels of classification of documents, misleading the public and Congress, punishing whistleblowers, censoring scientists, and violating the Constitution with warrantless surveillance or detentions, all of which have been defining characteristics of the Bush administration. The report reveals many other such ploys.

At Change.gov the Obama administration is already displaying a greater level of transparency than we have been used to in recent times. Let’s ramp up our attention level now, both to become better informed about those who exercise real power over our economic and social futures, and to make sure this trend toward transparency continues.
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1 40 Years of FOIA; 20 Years of Delay, from the National Security Archive, July 2, 2007 (Accessed November 16, 2008)
2 Freedom of Information Delays Take Years, by Richard Wolf, from USA Today, June 18, 2007 (Accessed November 16, 2008)
tags: Governance | Obama

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