Report: Government secrecy down slightly in 2008

OpenTheGovernment.org's 2009 Secrecy Report Card finds some improvements in Bush's last year

Government secrecy decreased slightly in 2008 compared with previous years of the Bush administration, according to a new report from a coalition of advocates for good and open government. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has taken steps to increase openness, but the eventual results remain to be seen, the report said.

The 2009 edition of the annual "Secrecy Report Card," released today by OpenTheGovernment.org, said that there were slight decreases in secrecy involving the executive branch of government. The group also said since the report was first published in 2004, it has found a significant increase in secrecy.

“Over the course of the [Bush] administration, we learned what can happen when we don’t have all three branches of our government carrying out their constitutional responsibilities,” the report said.

Meanwhile, the report said the 2008 elections were viewed by many as a referendum on that secrecy and unaccountability, and the country chose a president who promises open, transparent and accountable government. The authors said how well the administration fulfills that promise will be detailed in the 2010 report; however, they said, the record is now mixed.

Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org and an author of the report, said the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce secrecy have generally been positive.

“I think it’s mostly positive,” McDermott said. “I think what’s happened in the agencies is very positive, I think the rhetoric has been extraordinarily positive.”

However, McDermott said the Obama administration's assertions related to state secrets and executive privilege have raised concern.

“It’s going to be hard for any administration, any president to give up power,” she said, after explaining what she said was former Vice President Dick Cheney’s successful effort to restore power to the executive branch that was lost in the Watergate era.

However, she said on most other things she thinks the Obama administration is moving in the correct direction. According to the report card, in fiscal 2008:

  • The number of original classification decisions decreased to 203,541, a 13 percent drop from fiscal 2007.
  • The government spent almost $200 maintaining existing secrets already for every dollar it spent declassifying documents
  • Sixteen percent fewer pages were declassified than were in fiscal 2007.
  • The percentage of the government contract dollars that were awarded after a full and open competition was 36 percent, down from almost 45 percent in of contract fiscal 2000.
  • The percentage of contracts not competed at all rose to almost 27 percent from 23 percent in fiscal 2000.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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