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Shining Light on Closed Doors

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Last week, in a move toward openness, three Subcommittees (Readiness, Airland, and Personnel) of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) held public markups—debate and votes—on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The full committee also held one session of its bill markup open to the public. In the past, only one SASC Subcommittee, the Readiness Subcommittee led by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), opted to hold an open markup of the bill, which authorizes around $600 billion in defense spending. An open NDAA process sheds light on how Congress decides to use taxpayer dollars when it comes to defense and the military. We are pleased to see SASC take these steps toward increased transparency.

We had, however, hoped to see more progress. While SASC did open its markup on sexual assault issues in the bill, the rest of the bill was marked up in secret. In fact the Committee makes far too many of its policy decisions behind closed doors. Last year the Project On Government Oversight led a campaign to “Open the NDAA.” A host of organizations from across the ideological spectrum and nearly 5,000 concerned citizens joined POGO’s efforts to foster a more transparent NDAA markup process in the Senate. Because the NDAA is one of the few bills voted on and passed annually, it is important to make the process visible to the public. POGO wrote multiple letters urging the Senate to open its markups of the NDAA to the public, as the House Armed Services Committee was already doing.

Angela Canterbury, POGO’s Director of Public Policy, said, “While we respect the Senate Armed Service Committee’s duty to conduct hearings on classified information behind closed doors, we believe that non-classified information—the vast majority of the NDAA provisions—must be discussed openly so that the well-heeled lobbyists for special interests aren’t the only ones with access. The House Armed Services Committee holds its markup of the same bill open to the public. Why can’t the Senate?”

POGO joins our campaign partners in thanking Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) for opening to the public a portion of the SASC markup of the NDAA. We’d also like to thank the Chairs and Ranking Members of the subcommittees that held open markups this year: Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

We hope to see all of the NDAA markup open next year. The public has a right to know how their elected representatives in Congress are conducting their business—especially with the amount of taxpayer dollars spent and the high-stakes nature of the policy issues addressed in the NDAA.

Image by Flickr user Adam Fagen.

By: Sophia Kim
Intern, POGO

default thumbnail Sophia Kim is an intern with the Project On Government Oversight.

By: Christine Anderson
Public Policy Fellow, POGO

Christine Anderson Christine Anderson is a public policy fellow for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Open Government

Related Content: Budget, Defense, Government Secrecy, Information Access, NDAA

Authors: Christine Anderson, Sophia Kim

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