Improvement Iffy, Slow on Obama Administration's Openness Report Card

October 9, 2013

The Obama administration still has a long way to go before meeting its declared goal of creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. Its most recent report card says, in essence: still needs improvement.

Every year since 2004, the watchdog group OpenTheGovernment.org has issued a report quantifying government secrecy with specific numeric indicators — often drawn from government data. Its report for 2013 was issued October 1.

The report has tended to give special emphasis to secrecy in the name of national security. This year it began with a bombshell statement — saying it could not really guarantee all of its numbers because nobody could any longer trust what the US government tells its citizens in this area.

Talking about government surveillance, the report said: "The misdirection in which our government has engaged and the use of secret law are, for us, as disturbing as the activities they have hidden."

Few environmental reporters know that some environmental information at EPA is actually classified under the national security classification system — or kept secret under other provisions of law. An example might be drinking water security plans — a case in which secrecy might deny terrorists the knowledge of drinking water system vulnerabilities, but might also deny the public any knowledge of whether the vulnerabilities had been fixed.

The report says: "The change has been slow, though: requesters still have to wait far too long to receive government records; the growing volume of classified material still overwhelms the government’s declassification efforts, and far too much material is marked at a classification level beyond its risk to national security. While many of the trend lines may be pointing in the right direction, the rate of change is not enough to create an open and accountable government."