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Project on Government Oversight
 

 

 

 

Sunshine Week - Open Government Experts Available

March 14, 2005 

 

The Project On Government Oversight's (POGO) government secrecy experts Danielle Brian, Executive Director, and Scott Amey, General Counsel, are available to speak on a variety of issues concerning your coverage. Here are some issues that POGO follows:

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED INFORMATION. Since 9/11, there has been a proliferation of new ways the government withholds unclassified information from the public – including such categories as Sensitive Security Information (SSI) and Critical Infrastructure Information (CII). These new barriers are a veritable Wild West of secrecy, making it difficult for citizens to engage the government in dialogue about homeland security. POGO experienced this first hand when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission threatened it with civil and criminal prosecution for reporting on lax security testing at nuclear power plants.1

CLASSIFIED INFORMATION. In 2004, Congress supported appointment of a Public Interest Declassification Board to allow much-needed review of classification decisions. However, funds have not been requested for the Board, meaning that it can not operate in 2005 and 2006. In a letter next week, POGO and others will urge Congress and the President to remedy this situation. Experts throughout the federal government agree that the government classifies too much information.

RETROACTIVE CLASSIFICATION. In February 2005, the Justice Department declined to fight POGO's lawsuit alleging that it had illegally classified information after it had already been in the public domain. The Justice Department's withdrawl affirmed that the government can not classify publicly available information.2

WHISTLEBLOWERS. One way the government has been made more secret has been by threatening employees or contractors with punishment if they disclose information to the public. This results in silencing whistleblowers who would expose waste, fraud or corruption. In recent years, attempts to keep employees silent have proliferated and sometimes involved the forced signing of "secrecy oaths." POGO recently criticized the Department of Homeland Security for issuing a punitive rule that casts a cloak of secrecy over the entire agency.3

Laws designed to protect federal whistleblowers have been rendered useless by hostile judicial activism. Bi-partisan legislation supported by POGO to improve protections was just re-introduced in the Senate after failing in the last session of Congress.4 The agency responsible for protecting whistleblowers, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, has been accused by POGO and others of retaliating against its own whistleblowers and dumping whistleblower investigations.5

TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT CONTRACTING. POGO has issued several studies recommending improved transparency in government contracting. POGO has recently been concerned about the government's failure to post procurement data and the dramatic expansion of umbrella contracts which shield billions of dollars in expenditures from previously-available public scrutiny.6

This week, POGO will issue written testimony on transparency in contracting for a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT. POGO support the efforts of Senators Cornyn and Leahy to repair the Freedom of Information Act.7

SOURCES:

[1] Letter from House Government Reform Ranking Member Henry Waxman to National Security Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Shays, March 1, 2005.

[2] "Access to Memos Is Affirmed: Classified Status Can't Be Changed," Washington Post, February 23, 2005 .

[3] Letter from POGO on the Department of Homeland Security's Management Directive on FOUO Information and "Homeland Security Dropping Pledge of Secrecy for Workers," Washington Post, January 13, 2005 .

[4] Protection Proposal, Govexec.com, March 4, 2005 .

[5] "Whistleblower Staff Blow The Whistle On Special Counsel," Project On Government Oversight, March 3, 2005 and "Federal Whistleblower Office Faces Criticism," National Public Radio, March 9, 2005.

[6] "What We Don't Know About Federal Contracts Can Prove Costly," St. Louis Post-Dispatch and others, September 13, 2004 and "Federal Contracting and Iraq Reconstruction," Project On Government Oversight, March 11, 2004 .

[7] POGO supports the "OPEN Government Act of 2005," Project On Government Oversight, February 10, 2005.  


Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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