17. THE ALA'S FIGHT AGAINST GOVERNMENT SECRECY
In 1981, the Washington Office of the American Library Association
(ALA) launched "Less Access to Less Information By and About the U.S. Government,"
a semi-annual publication which documents Administration efforts to restrict and
privatize government information. The document, previously cited by Project Censored
(1986 and 1987) continues to be a censored story itself. It contains vital information
about the United States government, current policy changes, infringements on the
Bill of Rights, and related issues in Congress, yet only a handful of people are
aware of this valuable source of information.
The latest addition to this
sad ongoing litany of government censorship notes that since 1982, one of every
four of the government's 16,000 publications has been eliminated. And, through
two little publicized 1985 directives, the Office of Management and Budget has
clearly consolidated its government information control powers.
development, with major implications for public access, is the growing tendency
of federal agencies to utilize computer and telecommunications technologies for
data collection, storage, retrieval, and dissemination. This trend has resulted
in the increased emergence of contractual arrangements with commercial firms to
disseminate information collected at taxpayers expense, higher user charges for
government information, and the proliferation of government information available
in electronic format only. While automation clearly offers promises of savings,
it is feared that public access will be further restricted for people who cannot
afford computers or pay for computer time.
The January to June 1990 issue
of the ALA publication reveals another 45 issues that deserved far more attention
than they received in the national media. Following is just one example:
of the House Government Operations Committee charged that the Bush Administration
is deliberately violating a law that bans funding for an employee secrecy pledge.
The pledge has been a battleground for Congress and the Reagan and Bush Administrations
since 1983 when the former president issued an order increasing use of nondisclosure
agreements. In turn, for several years Congress banned funding to disseminate
the forms through the appropriations process.
Yet, when President Bush signed
the fiscal year 1990 appropriations bill into law, he protested that the section
on secrecy forms was unconstitutional and the Information Security Oversight Office
(ISOO) wrote all agencies instructing them to continue using the forms that bind
some three million employees and military members to prepublication review of
their writings and speeches.
House committee chair Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)
repeatedly asked the head of ISOO how the administration decided to "flaunt
the law and assert a presidential power to ignore duly enacted statutes."
The ISOO refused to tell Conyers even the names of the officials who participated
in the discussions to use the form.
Given the value and import of the information
contained in the ALA's semi-annual publication of "Less Access to Less Information,"
one would believe that it deserves at least as much media attention as the annual
announcement of the best dressed women of the year.
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER:
SOURCE: AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION, Washington Office, 110 Maryland
Ave, NE, Washington, DC 20002
TITLE: "Less Access To Less Information By and About the Government:
a 1990 Chronology: January-December"
CO-AUTHOR: Anne Heanue, ALA Washington Office Associate Director
COMMENTS: Co-author Anne Heanue points out that the issue of
less government information "has been treated in a fragmented way
in two major daily newspapers, The Washington Post and The New York
Times," and while they have reported on specific items, "they
have overlooked the big story of the erosion of public access to government
informa-tion over a period of years." Newsweeklies gave the issue
little attention in 1990 while network TV seemed to have ignored the
story. "Three years ago," Heanue said, "ALA member Nancy
Kranich of New York University Libraries, worked for months with the
staff of CBS Evening News to develop a story to be aired on March 16,
1988, Freedom of Information Day, about restrictions on public access
to government information. The segment was postponed when Oliver North
was indicted that same day. Despite repeated efforts to get the story
on the air, it was not shown." Heanue said the general public should
know more about the issue since people "would gain a greater understanding
of the importance of government information: 1) to their informed participation
in a democracy; 2) to the general and economic well-being and national
security of the country; and, 3) as an essential factor in public awareness
of government activities and in the ability of the citizenry to hold
the government accountable for its actions." And, for all those
who want to know where to get more information about many of these issues,
Heanue added that "Attention could be drawn to the role of the
nation's libraries in providing public access to government information."