Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Opening the Opaque

Among his many campaign promises, Barack Obama said his administration would be the most transparent the nation has ever had.

While some will question whether he (or his immediate aides) are really trying to honor that pledge, there is little doubt that the new administration is far more open than its predecessor. Under the regime of Bush-Cheney, the supposition when an executive department or agency received a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request was that the person or agency making the request was not entitled to have or in any way confirm2ve access have the information requested. And when all else seemed as if it would fail to block a release of information, all the bureaucraextremist had to do was slap a classification on the information.

(Under Bush-Cheney it was well known that attempts were made to re-classify information that had been released into the public domain.)

One example of the change in attitude, in addition to presuming that those making a FOIA request for unclassified information (or even for government records marked “confidential” that can be declassified) should receive it, is a Defense Department policy directive that encourages all Defense intellgence agencies to provide to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) classified information that the GAO wants (and often needs) to assist Congress with oversight of the programs authorized and funded each year.

It’s not that Bush-Cheney tried to bend the principle of “separation of powers” as the springboard for their refusal to cooperate with Congress’ investigative arm. They simply ignored the GAO requests. Under law (31 U.S. C. 716d) the only recourse for the Comptroller General who runs the GAO is to file a civil action in federal district court. The Comptroller General cannot compel the intelligence agencies to honor his requests, but at least now he should not have to fight a Sysiphian battle every time.

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