Anyone who’s been watching the subject knows government secrecy, even in areas not related to national security, has been on a steady rise. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has been the best tool we have to get information out of the government, to find out such silly questions as… “why?” Or, “just who was involved in doing that?” Or, “how can you justify doing such a thing?”
When it was enacted, the FOIA went a long way toward forcing our government agencies to consider their actions carefully before doing anything, because they were much more likely to be held accountable. However, as we know, government agencies under the Bush Administration have been practically free from having to fulfill FOIA requests any more. They will just delay responding to the requests indefinitely, ignore them, slap an arbitrary “national security” stamp on it that cannot be verified, or just fulfill the request by giving a mostly blacked-out document.
Many agencies, most recently the national laboratory at Los Alamos, have decided that all of their documents are unavailable unless specifically noted as being available. This, instead of documents being available, unless specifically noted as being secret.
Also, FOIA requests can be burdensome on government agencies – they require personnel to work to fulfill the requests. Personnel do not like having to be bothered with these requests. I’d do the world’s tiniest violin thang, but all I have is letters here.
Recently, the entire Congress has become united in their desire to strengthen the FOIA in light of the recent unjustifiable secrecy that is just continuing to grow, unchecked. Both houses fairly well unanimously support Senate Bill 849 that forces agencies to respond more timely, hold them more accountable, and forces them to justify far more stringently withholding any information, amongst other things. You can’t really blame them because the Congress themselves often run up to Executive Branch Agencies that are stonewalling them as they try to gather the information they need.
The bill was scheduled to be voted on yesterday, but it wasn’t. I haven’t been able to find anything about this in the news. The reason it wasn’t voted on is because an anonymous Republican Senator put a secret hold on it so that it couldn’t reach the floor. Freedom of Information Act — secret, anonymous hold. Go figure.
At least we can read the Congressional Record that relates to the incident, though, for all the good it does. Ironically, they were calling it, internally, Sunshine in Government.
The Society of Professional Journalists has created a little mechanism to help, though. People can call their senators and ask if they put a hold on it. They will be tabulating the results of people’s calls. Apparently, this tactic has worked before to flush out this type of slimy person.
Also, a lot of talking is starting up about “Terrorist Precursor Crimes”. That is, within the United States, selling of drugs, non-profit organizations, etc, that help support terrorists. Now, the Patriot Act gets real fun… 😉