Monday, October 23, 2006


By William Fisher

It has gone largely unreported, but President Bush’s “stay the course” mantra has apparently taken a 180-degree turn.

I offer in evidence this recent quote from Mr. Bush:

"We believe that the more we inform our American citizens, the better our government will be. We believe that the more transparency there is in the system, the better the system functions on behalf of the American people."

The President’s remarks came at a signing ceremony for the Federal Funding
Accountability and Transparency Act, which will establish a searchable online database of federal grants and contracts.

As reported by Steve Aftergood’s Project on Government Secrecy, a White House fact sheet said the new law "is part of President Bush's ongoing commitment to improve transparency, accountability, and management across the Federal Government."

OK, so maybe it wasn’t about Iraq or Afghanistan or the Global War on Terror. And maybe the timing of its revelation had just a tad to do with the mid-term elections. But it has to be seen as some kind of major epiphany anyway.

The reason is that this President has presided over arguably the most secretive government in U.S. history.

Consider the findings of a report issued a while ago by Congressman Henry Waxman of California, one of the Democrats effectively neutered by the current House majority. Waxman’s report found “a systematic effort by the Bush Administration to limit the application of the laws that promote open government and accountability…the Bush Administration has sought to curtail public access to information while expanding the powers of government to operate in secret.”

The report alleged that both the American people and the U.S. Congress are being denied access to millions of pages of documents to which they are entitled under law. It added, “The actions of the Bush Administration have resulted in an extraordinary expansion of government secrecy. External watchdogs, including Congress, the media, and nongovernmental organizations, have consistently been hindered in their ability to monitor government activities.”

The Report found that the Administration has systematically withheld “a vast array“ of records from Congress. Subjects have ranged “from simple census data and routine agency correspondence to presidential and vice presidential records.”

Henry Waxman has good reason to know. Congress itself, Waxman’s report says, has been one of the main victims of our secret government. “On over 100 separate occasions, the Administration has refused to answer the inquiries of, or provide the information requested” by Congressman Waxman in his role as the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Government Reform. The information the Administration has refused to provide includes “documents requested by the ranking members of eight House Committees relating to the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere”, the Report says.

Well, maybe Mr. Waxman and the rest of us need to cut the President some slack. After all, his epiphany only happened a few weeks ago.

Now, The Decider-in-Chief has to get it implemented, and that’s going to take a bit of time. Even for a chief executive with a Harvard MBA, it’s not going to be a quick or easy job.

Because, as of today, the government continues to classify more documents about more different subjects than any of its predecessors ever dreamed of. And it spends billions in taxpayer funds to do so.

Still, the President’s epiphany has to come as welcome news to all the folks who have spent the past six frustrating years trying to make the Freedom of Information Act work in something resembling a timely manner.

Take heart, ACLU, Associated Press, and countless other soldiers in what has become an open-the-government cottage industry.

Given the president’s management skills, and his authority as Decider, maybe it won’t be too long before the government folks whose salaries we pay stop spinning the truth and let us all in on both our successes and our failures.

Maybe, in the future, it won’t take an army of meddlers to learn what we need to know about GITMO, secret CIA prisons, domestic eavesdropping, faux science, rolling back environmental protections, interoperable radios, progress in our Global War On Terrorism, and a host of other issues.

And -- who knows? -- it might just signal the end of whistleblowing!