Good government, taxpayer, and civil and human rights organizations from across the ideological spectrum launched a campaign today calling for more openness in the legislation that allocates funds to the national defense budget. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last year authorized more than $662 billion of taxpayer dollars for FY 2012, but was drafted and debated behind closed doors in the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).
The “Open NDAA” campaign urges Senators to shine a light on the defense budget by making the draft bill and amendments available in advance of the markup, as well as opening the markup—or committee votes—to the public.
Because the NDAA is one of the few bills passed annually, it attracts many proposals, some of which would be considered by other committees—and some have been very controversial.
For the past few years, the SASC has voted to close the entire markup for the NDAA—instead of closing only the portions of the session dealing with classified information. Last year, 17 senators voted to close the markup and 9 voted against closing the markup.
Today, the groups sent a letter thanking Ranking Member John McCain (R-AZ) and other SASC members who voted against closing the markup last year, as well as a letter urging Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and the other SASC members to conduct the NDAA markup in accordance with our country’s highest principles of transparency and openness.
The letters state: “The public has a right to know how Congress is conducting the people’s business, particularly when so many taxpayer dollars and important wide-ranging policies are at stake.”
In stark contrast to the Senate, the House NDAA markup is open to the public. The House Armed Services Committee Chairman provides the text of the bill online at least 24 hours in advance of the Committee vote on the bill and offers webcasts of NDAA markups. Before discussing classified information, the House Committee can vote to move to a private session.
The groups wrote: “The SASC ought to be able to do the same. In fact, last year, Senator McCaskill held her subcommittee’s vote on the NDAA in the open. We hope that the other SASC subcommittee chairs will do likewise this year.”
The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and allies have also launched an awareness campaign and a drive for more organizational and individual signatures to the letters at www.OpenNDAA.org. POGO and its allies will then deliver the letters again with the new signatories to members of the SASC in advance of this year’s markup of the NDAA.
The campaign was launched during “Sunshine Week,” when openness in the government is celebrated and encouraged.
Original signatories to the letters sent today were American Civil Liberties Union, Center for National Security Studies, Center for Victims of Torture, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Liberty Coalition, National Taxpayers Union, OMB Watch, Open Society Policy Center, OpenTheGovernment.org, Project On Government Oversight, Sunlight Foundation, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, The Constitution Project, and the Washington Office on Latin America.