WASHINGTON – The government is withholding more information than ever from the public and expanding ways of shrouding data, a coalition of watchdog groups reported Saturday.
Last year, federal agencies spent a record $148 creating and storing new secrets for each $1 spent declassifying old secrets, the group’s report said.
That’s a $28 jump from 2003 when $120 was spent to keep secrets for every $1 spent revealing them. In the late 1990s, the ratio was $15-$17 a year to $1, according to the secrecy report card by OpenTheGovernment.org.
Overall, the government spent $7.2 billion in 2004 stamping 15.6 million documents “top secret,” “secret” or “confidential.” That almost doubled the 8.6 million new documents classified as recently as 2001.
Last year, the number of pages declassified declined for the fourth straight year to 28.4 million. These figures cover 41 federal agencies, excluding the CIA, whose classification totals are secret.
“These numbers show we are going in the wrong direction,” said Rick Blum, author of the report and director of the coalition of consumer, environmental, labor, journalism and library groups.
The report also noted the growing use of secret searches, court secrecy, closed meetings by government advisory groups and patents kept from public view.
The numbers do not solely reflect overclassification, said J. William Leonard, director of the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office, which monitors classification.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, “many agencies have gone to 24/7 operations, others have increased their intelligence product, and the military is fighting two wars. You can’t do that without producing more classified, and unclassified, information.”
Leonard said classification costs rise as agencies share secrets electronically. Yet, he said, “the great lesson of 9-11 is that improper hoarding of information can cost lives and harm national security.”
The report identified 50 new restrictions in laws, regulations or “mere assertions by government officials” that keep unclassified information from the public.