US Government secrecy - a report card

US Government secrecy by almost any measure is expanding and little is being done to stop it, according to a coalition of 67 organizations favoring greater openness.

From classified information to the president's use of the state secrets privilege, the lack of disclosure should be a growing concern to the public and the Congress, said Patrice McDermott, director of, which compiled a report using mostly the government's own figures.

"While some of the increased secrecy is attributable to a reaction to 9/11 and to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is also a significant expansion of the power of the executive at the expense of the public, the courts, and Congress,'' McDermott said Friday. "The executive branch seems to believe that something is kept under wraps solely on its say-so, whether it is legitimately so or not.''

The Secrecy Report Card, produced annually by in order to identify trends in public access to information, found a troubling lack of transparency in military procurement, assertions of executive privilege, and expansion of "sensitive" categories of information, among other areas.

In 2006, the public's use of the US Freedom of Information Act continued to rise. Agency backlogs are significant; the oldest FOIA request in the federal government has now been pending for more than 20 years.

The report cites many indicators of growing secrecy, including:

  • Since 2001, the "state secrets" privilege (the executive branch power to impose secrecy with little opportunity for appeal or judicial review) has been used a reported 39 times - an average of six times per year in 6.5 years that is more than double the average (2.46) in the previous 24 years.
  • In 2006, 26 percent ($107.5 billion) of federal contracts dollars were completely uncompeted; only one-third of contracts dollars are subject to full and open competition.
  • In six years, President Bush has issued at least 151 signing statements, challenging 1,149 provisions of laws. Of these challenges, 85 percent have been on "constitutional" grounds.

Such challenges make it difficult for the public to know that the laws are "faithfully executed" as required by the U.S. Constitution. A 2007 Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report on secret wiretap warrants indicated that the government made 143,074 National Security Letter requests in the period 2003-2005. The number for 2006 remains classified. These requests can be used to obtain information about individuals without the government applying for a court-reviewed warrant.

"The current administration has increasingly refused to be held accountable to the public, including through the oversight responsibilities of Congress," said Patrice McDermott, Director of "These practices lead to the circumscription of democracy and our representative government; neither the public nor Congress can make informed decisions in these circumstances."

Group Troubled by Rise in Gov't Secrecy (The Guardian, 1 September 2007)

Read the report here: