Today the Senate Armed Services Committee began debating and voting on their version of the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) but unlike in the House, this process was completely behind closed doors despite calls from civic society organizations to open the process.
The Project On Government Oversight Executive Director Danielle Brian issued the following statement:
“We are extremely disappointed that Senator John McCain closed his committee’s final deliberation on such an important piece of legislation and classified it as Secret.
Until this year, a number of defense Subcommittees held open debate and votes on this legislation. While we recognize that some deliberations over classified programs should be conducted behind closed doors--this extraordinary move by the Committee is a huge setback for open and accountable government
The Committee likely considered amendments that alter military pay and benefit policy, authorize base closures, provide funding for major weapon systems, weaken whistleblower protections, and other provisions that will direct the Pentagon to spend massive amounts of taxpayer dollars.
Given the size and scope of the bill, which is expected to grow to over $600 billion in Pentagon spending, it is entirely unacceptable for a committee vote of this magnitude to be made in secret. A closed process means the public doesn't know how Senators vote on key provisions in the bill.
Senator McCain has recognized the value of making some of this information available to the public in the past, and criticized overly secretive legislative processes.
An open process does not prevent private deliberation on the bill between senators and staff—it simply gives the public, as well as the rest of the Congress, greater opportunity to participate.
Classifying the entire process in the Senate committee is an abuse of classification to keep the public out for the Senators’ convenience--made only more baffling by the House simultaneously marking up their version in a fully open session.”