After almost eight years of George W. Bush's secret government, "of the people, by the people, and for the people" has become a joke.
Not a joke like lipstick on a pig. A joke like pathetic.
Because government secrecy is one of a cornucopia of serious issues our presidential candidates are busy not discussing.
Consider the following:
In its "Secrecy Report Card 2008," the advocacy group Open The Government concludes that the Bush Administration has "exercised unprecedented levels not only of restriction of access to information about federal government's policies and decisions, but also of suppression of discussion of those policies and their underpinnings and sources."
Today, the report finds, the Bush Administration "continues to refuse to be held accountable to the public through the oversight responsibilities of Congress."
It concludes, "We have been made less secure as a result and the open society on which we pride ourselves has been undermined and will take hard work to repair."
Here are some of the report's principal findings:
Classification activity remains significantly higher than before 2001. In 2006, the number of original classification decisions increased to 233,639, after dropping for the two previous years.
The government spent $195 maintaining the secrets already on the books for every one dollar it spent declassifying documents in 2007, a five per cent increase in one year. At the same time, fewer pages were declassified than in 2006. The nation's 16 intelligence agencies, which account for a large segment of the declassification numbers, are excluded from the total reported figures.
Classified, or "black" programs accounted for about $31.9 billion, or 18 per cent of the fiscal year (FY) 2008 Department of Defense (DOD) acquisition funding requested in 2007. Classified acquisition funding has more than doubled in real terms since FY 1995.
Almost 22 million requests were received under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2007, an increase of almost 2% over last year. The 25 departments and agencies that handle the bulk of the third-party information requests, however, received 63,000 fewer requests than 2006 -- but processed only 2,100 more.
In 2007, the total cost of FOIA implementation across the government increased 16%. But a 2008 study revealed that, in 2007, FOIA spending at 25 key agencies fell by $7 million to $233.8 million and the agencies put 209 fewer people to work processing FOIA requests.
In 2007, the federal government closed the lid on 128 patents. Overall, that brings the total number of inventions kept under "secrecy orders" to 5,002.
While the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) does not reveal much about its activities, the Department of Justice reported that, in 2007, the FISC approved 2,371 orders -- rejecting only three and approving two left over from the previous year. Since 2000, federal surveillance activity under the jurisdiction of FISC has risen for the 9th year in a row -- more than doubling during the Bush Administration.
FISC was established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978 after revelations of the widespread wiretapping by the administration of Richard M. Nixon to spy on political and activist groups. Recently, efforts to reform the act have been triggered by the Bush Administration's admission that it had conducted secret surveillance programs in the U.S. without warrants from the FISA court.
During FY 2007, suits brought by whistleblowers accounted for $1.45 billion of the $2 billion the United States obtained in settlements and judgments concerning fraud on the United States. However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) faces an ever-growing backlog of over 900 cases.