Las Vegas Sun

June 26, 2017

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Sun editorial:

Curtailing open government

Statistical evidence points to culture of secrecy under the Bush administration

For those of us who value open government, the news is pretty grim. Whether it involves documents, meetings or contracts, it is getting more difficult to obtain information from the federal government.

A report card released Tuesday by OpenTheGovernment.org, a Washington coalition of journalism, consumer and government watchdog groups, detailed numerous trends that reveal a growing practice of secrecy by the Bush administration.

In 1997, when then-President Clinton occupied the White House, the government declassified 204 million pages of documents. Last year only 37.2 million pages were declassified. From 1998 through 2002 requests under the Freedom of Information Act were fully granted 51.3 percent of the time. That was true in only 42.3 percent of the cases from 2003 through 2007.

Our government in 1999 spent $15 classifying documents for every dollar spent on declassification. The ratio last year rose to $195 to $1.

Meetings of federal advisory committees to discuss scientific and other technical issues were closed to the public 64 percent of the time last year, compared with 50 percent of the time in 1998. Among federal contracts, 44.5 percent were subject to full and open competition in 2000, but that was true of only 32.9 percent last year.

Turning these trends around will require help from Congress. To some extent that is beginning to occur.

Legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act was signed into law late last year. Bills have also been introduced to declassify more information, add transparency and accountability to federal spending, and increase protections for public employees who expose waste and fraud. But we hope Congress does not stop there.

Lawmakers should do whatever they can to rid the federal government of a spreading culture of secrecy that threatens our democratic form of government. The public can do its part by reminding elected officials that government agencies serve at our pleasure, not the other way around.

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