Excessive Secrecy in Government
Undercutting the Democratic Process and Protecting Corporations from Accountability
For a democratic government to thrive, its workings must be visible to the public. That fundamental principle has served the nation well for more than two centuries – in times of war and peace, bounty and bust. To be sure, some matters of national security must remain confidential, especially in dangerous times. But during the Bush years, the clamp-down on the flow of information and on the very notion of transparency itself went far beyond the demands of national security.
Indeed, the Bush Administration’s penchant for secrecy surfaced even before September 11, 2001. By then, the Administration had already implemented a series of measures to restrict public access to information. After 9/11, the Homeland Security Act clamped down even more, restricting the public's right to know, and extending secrecy to corporate information.
Bush Era examples of excessive secrecy and contempt for the public’s right to know span numerous agencies, touching on issues far removed from security matters. In some instances, “national security” claims appear to have been invoked to protect not-so-sensitive information from public disclosure. Not surprisingly, the excessive secrecy touches on key issues of health, safety and the environment.
CPR Member Scholars’ writings on the subject include:
- Agricultural Secrecy. In September 2012, CPR published Going Dark Down on the Farm: How Legalized Secrecy Gives Agribusiness a Federally Funded Free Ride, identifying the problem of agricultural secrecy and its repercussions for transparency, public health, and the environment. The paper explains how agricultural producers receive billions of dollars in federal subsidies, crop insurance, conservation payments, and other grants -- yet the USDA is authorized to keep secret much of the basic information that farmers provide to qualify for this public funding. Read the accompanying blog post.
- Proposed Executive Orders for the Obama Administration. In November 2008, the Center for Progressive Reform transmitted to the Obama Transition Team a slate of seven Executive Orders addressing a series of critical issues, including climate change, transparency in government, environmental justice, children's exposure to toxics, citizens' right to sue corporations whose products cause them harm, and stewardship of public lands. Read a web article about the proposals, and read the white paper itself, Protecting Public Health and the Environment by the Stroke of a Presidential Pen. Or read the news release.
- A CPR Perspective. Read Rena Steinzor’s CPR Perspective, Secrecy. Also read Clifford Rechtschaffen's The Right to Know.
- EPA Libraries Op-Ed. Read "Bush White House blocks information to EPA libraries," by Joel Mintz and Rebecca Bratspies, published December 12, 2006 in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, about the Administration's decision to close down this vital source of information for EPA staff, environmental activists and the public.
- Grazing Secrecy Op-Ed. Read Joseph Feller's, "In Bush Grazing Decision, Politics, Secrecy Win Again," a description of Administration suppression of a damning environmental impact statement assessing the harm from a Bureau of Land Management grazing policy, published August 18 on the websites of the Center for American Progress and AlterNet.
- Steinzor CII Comments for DHS. Read Rena Steinzor’s May 2004 comments on the Department of Homeland Security’s Procedures for Handling Critical Infrastructure Information (Interim Rule). Or read her June 16, 2003 comments on the Department of Homeland Security's proposed rule for handling Critical Infrastructure Information, in which she writes that "DHS needs to go back to the drawing board."