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Project on Government Oversight

Senate Committee's Decision to Close Markup on Defense Bill is Affront to Taxpayers

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May 25, 2012

Statement of Danielle Brian, Executive Director,
Project On Government Oversight

Once again, a majority of the Senate Armed Services Committee has decided that the public’s business is best done behind closed doors. The 18 members who voted to keep their deliberations of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) secret hid behind the false pretense that they were protecting the potential disclosure of classified information.

This argument simply lacks all credibility.

The Senate Armed Services Committee can and should close their hearings to discuss classified information. But the large majority of the NDAA deals with non-classified information about how the government will spend trillions in taxpayer dollars on various military programs, such as providing health care for troops, hiring contractors and what weapons to buy.

Shutting the public out of that discussion is an affront to this country’s democratic principles. The House Armed Services Committee holds its votes and debate on the NDAA in the open, except when specifically discussing classified information, without putting national security at risk. Why is the Senate committee different?

It was Chairman Carl Levin’s (D-Mich.) prerogative to hold the vote to close the hearing—he could have held the markup in the open. But he chose not to despite repeated calls from a coalition representing broad ideologies and interests. The eight senators who voted to keep the NDAA hearing open understand their responsibility to taxpayers. However, this year, for the first time in four years, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was not one of those members. It’s hard to fathom what caused him to flip flop when absolutely nothing about the issue has changed.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), chair of the Military Readiness subcommittee and one of the eight senators who voted to keep the NDAA markup open, deserves praise for keeping her subcommittee's votes and debate on the NDAA open to the public.

The NDAA accounts for more than half of the U.S.’s annual discretionary spending—legislation of such enormous importance should not be discussed behind closed doors.

The Senators who voted to keep the NDAA hearings open: McCaskill, Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and David Vitter (R-La.)

The Senators who voted in favor of closing the hearings: Levin , McCain, Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Jim Webb (D-Va.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mark Begich (D-Ark.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.).

Founded in 1981, POGO is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.