Secrecy and a lack of transparency were, unfortunately, hallmarks of the George W. Bush administration. While openness and government accountability seemed to have improved under the Obama administration, serious problems remain in place that must be monitored and fought against for what they are – affronts to the democratic process. GAP’s work combating secrecy and promoting transparency fosters an environment in which whistleblowers can comfortably and safely bring waste, fraud, and abuse to light.
The rise in hybrid secrecy categories over the last decade was damaging not only for government transparency, but created large hurdles for government agencies to share communications with each other. These categories, such as “Sensitive Security Information,” “Sensitive, but Unclassified,” and “For Official Use Only” often have no concrete definitions or requirements for consistent use and have been used applied, sometimes retroactively, by agencies to cloud potential whistleblowers’ judgments about whether to come forward with information. In some cases, information was retroactively applied to information whistleblowers exposed in order to “justify” termination. Unregulated, overbroad secrecy categorizations cause unnecessary road blocks to legitimate government information-sharing, making the United States more vulnerable to future attacks.
GAP advocates for responsible use of the State Secrets Privilege, which had been a rarely-used common law privilege until post-9/11, when the government began asserting it as the basis for shutting down numerous lawsuits challenging government wrongdoing, including warrantless wiretapping and torture.
GAP is also an active user of the FOIA process, and typically has several requests in at one time. It is GAP’s belief that a government cannot be strong without having a solid understanding and practice of openness and transparency.