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Project on Government Oversight

In Wake of Snowden Disclosures, Obama Must Strengthen U.S. Commitment to Openness, Accountability

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

On Thursday, the White House released a preview of its second National Action Plan for the international Open Government Partnership, whose mission is to increase openness and accountability among its member countries.  While some of the draft commitments line up with our recommendations for openness, the plan is silent on the critical reforms needed to address some of the most troubling areas of secrecy: protecting whistleblowers, reducing over-classification, and curbing secret law.

Administration officials have assured us that they intend to address these areas in the final version of its action plan, which will be released in December. We surely hope so. 

We understand that recent revelations might make the Obama Administration's participation in the Open Government Partnership a little awkward at the moment. But if the U.S. is hoping to show that it's fully behind the partnership and its mission of increasing openness and accountability among its member countries, the Administration will have to do better than what it has shown thus far.

The world is watching and wondering how the U.S. can credibly claim advances in open government without addressing these critical issues in the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures on surveillance.

That said, there are other worthwhile commitments in the draft. We welcome the draft Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) commitments, which would help streamline and centralize a patchwork system that has long been overly complicated for both the public and government officials. We also are pleased to see a commitment to working with civil society groups to improve the ability to track U.S. government spending on USAspending.gov.

However, we're disappointed that Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) provisions simply reflect decisions that have already been made. The final commitments must go further.

We urge the Obama Administration to work closely with us and our civil society partners to ensure ambitious commitments and real progress are made. Excessive secrecy in the name of national security is harming U.S. legitimacy, both with the American people and our allies around the globe.

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.

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