The High Cost of Secrecy
|December 31, 2004||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Wimpy Politicians Hide from Taxpayers
Here is a news update from Taxpayers for Common Sense. TCS is the best organization that monitors excessive government spending, corruption and corporate welfare.
The Costs of Secrecy
The control of classified government information is necessary to keep our nation safe and secure. However, over the last three years, the breadth and extent of secrecy in Washington has gotten out of control. Now many critical aspects of federal government operations are cloaked with an unprecedented level of secrecy. After a decades-long trend of increasing government openness, this Congress and administration are making increasing amounts of information unavailable to taxpayers.
Some point to the different world we live in after the tragic events of September 11th as justification for this lack of transparency. However, there are a number of well-reported examples, such as the Cheney Energy task force scandal, that do not have a credible link to national security.
While the free flow of information is a hallmark of the Internet age, Congressional committees are becoming known for closing hearings and bill mark-ups when there’s even a whiff of national security and issues of security clearance. A small portion of Hill legislation may deal with national security items, but the whole process is becoming more and more closed. For example, appropriations subcommittees have taken to meeting in tiny rooms that don’t have adequate space to accommodate the number of people interested in watching the deliberations and decisions of their legislators.
Also, too common these days is the regularity with which no one knows what is in the key legislation that is been debated by Congress. Republican or Democrat, members of Congress don’t seem to want their constituents to see what they’re putting in legislative sausage. Here are several ways legislation is becoming more secret and more expensive:
Rewritten behind closed doors – After the House and Senate have each passed legislation, conference negotiators are rewriting the legislation behind closed doors, and often in the dead of the night. The resulting bills wind up containing “sweetener” provisions that were never included in either of the two original versions. This process undercuts the legislative process and gives undue influence to those who have friends in high places. Spending bills, energy, Medicare and the Iraq spending legislation are just a few examples this phenomenon.
Massive bills aren’t properly evaluated – Instead of following the normal legislative procedure, final versions of bills are only being made available a few days, or even hours, before the House or Senate vote is scheduled to take place. Not only does the public not know what are in these bills, many lawmakers are forced to rely on “cliff notes” write-ups to determine whether or not to vote for the legislation. Congress has passed several massive spending bills with virtually no accountability and the sheer size of these thousand-page legislative tomes enable a lot of special interest pork in be hidden in plain sight.
Billions added at the last minute – In the recent transportation bill, more than $390 million was added at the last minute for two Alaskan projects, which is represented by Rep. Don Young, chairman of the committee that wrote the legislation. Most lawmakers learned about these provisions after the legislation was passed and there was nothing they could do to fix it.
Limited Disclosure – In 1995, following up on a “Contract with America” promise, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich announced the creation of Thomas, an Internet site of Library of Congress that provides copies of bills and Congressional records. While a significant advance over what was previously available – virtually nothing – there are still large gaps of information, such as the versions of legislation as it makes its way through the legislative process. Thomas includes versions of bills as they are first introduced and versions of them as they passed the chamber, but any interim steps are impossible to find unless the Committee makes it available. Another arm of the Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service, provides unvarnished information to Congress on a wide range of topics in their reports and issue briefs. But Congress treats this taxpayer-funded service as their private research arm, denying the public access to these reports.
There’s no doubt that most Americans understand the need for increased security and some of the sacrifices that have to be made to achieve it. But, complete and robust disclosure and transparency of government information has a positive, beneficial impact on government. Any effort to wrap information under the veil of security or any other matter has a disastrous impact on the public’s trust in the federal government and simply adds to general cynicism about the political process.
For more information, contact Keith Ashdown at (202)-546-8500 ext. 110 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
TCS is at www.taxpayer.net
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