Washington Brief - November 2006

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By Mary Alice Baish

Inaugural Issue of The AALL Washington E-Bulletin Launched
On August 21st, Bryan Stevens and I released the first issue of the brand new online AALL Washington E-Bulletin, distributing it to subscribers of the AALL Advocacy Listserv and announcing it to law-lib readers and all our chapters. We plan on making this a monthly compilation of the latest legislative and policy news from the Washington Office. Each issue will include any current action alerts; information about our recent letters, statements, or testimony; "Outside the Beltway" news from our chapters; and links to further readings for that special "information policy junkie"! Bryan and I spent a good bit of time transitioning our vision into what we hope you'll discover to be a comprehensive e-newsletter that will keep you abreast of our activities, and much more. We are most grateful to Chair Keith Ann Stiverson and all the members of the Government Relations Committee for their helpful comments, suggestions, and support throughout the creative process. Please visit our website, Washington Affairs Online, at http://www.aallnet.org/aallwash/ for current and past issues, and we invite you to drop us a note to let us know how we can make it even more informative.

Celebrating Constitution Day 2006
September 17th is "Constitution Day and Citizenship Day," commemorating the September 17, 1787 signing of the United States Constitution. The law establishing the holiday was enacted in 2004 and it requires that all publicly funded educational institutions provide special programming on the 17th (or during the week, if the holiday falls on a weekend) on the history of the Constitution. On September 14th, I'll have the honor of moderating a two-hour panel discussion at the American University (AU) on "Checks and Balances: Classified Information versus the Public's Right to Know."

Speakers are Tom Blanton, Executive Director of the National Security Archive; AU Professor Phil Brenner who specializes in U.S. foreign policy; and Professor of Media and Public Affairs Mark Feldstein from George Washington University. Tom Blanton will provide an overview of the history of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), an assessment of its effectiveness in the post-9/11 environment and current congressional efforts to strengthen it. Professor Brenner will summarize the elaborate process of filing FOIA applications to access documents from the Cuban Missile Crisis and will assess how the documents changed the way in which historians, and even former decision-makers themselves, understood the crisis. Professor Feldstein will discuss his involvement in the Jack Anderson case, how the FBI came to his home to get the late columnist's archives, and why he refused to hand them over. He will also talk about how this case fits into the larger pattern of ongoing assaults on the public's right to know and how that concept has changed over time during the past two centuries of American jurisprudence.

As I write this column on the solemn fifth anniversary of the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it seems especially appropriate that we focus this week on the need to properly balance the government's responsibility to protect our national security while at the same time promoting the public's right to know. These are difficult issues that need to be discussed and debated in public gatherings, and for which there are no easy answers. Are any of you involved in planning a Constitution Day event at your institution this year? If so, I'd love to hear all about it as it seems like an excellent opportunity for law librarians to take a leadership role in developing a Constitution Day event for your community. Thanks!

2005 Secrecy Report Card Released
OpenTheGovernment.org released its third annual Secrecy Report Card in early September that documents a troubling lack of transparency&emdash;particularly in military procurement, new private inventions, and the scientific and technical advice the government receives. In 2005, the public's use of the Freedom of Information Act continued to rise and agencies' processing of FOIA requests remained mired in backlogs. At the same time, the report discovered that even more "sensitive but unclassified" categories of information were created in 2005 that allow federal agencies to withhold documents from the public with no review. Here's a snapshot of the major findings:

     

  • In 2005, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved all 2,072 requests for secret surveillance orders made by U.S. intelligence agencies, rejecting none. So while surveillance of foreign organizations and nationals under the jurisdiction of this secretive court has doubled in the past five years, the public knows nothing of whom or what is being investigated, or how agencies are carrying out such investigations.

     

  • The government issued 9,254 National Security Letters during 2005. These letters can be used to obtain information about individuals without the government applying for a court-reviewed warrant and, thus, without any external review.

     

  • In 2005, "black" programs accounted for 17 percent of the Defense Department budget of $315.5 billion. Classified acquisition funding has nearly doubled in real terms since FY 1995, when funding for these programs reached its post-Cold War low.

     

  • Since 2001, the "state secrets" privilege has reportedly been invoked 22 times&emdash;an average in 5.5 years (4) that is almost twice as high as the previous 24 years (2.46).

     

  • President George W. Bush has issued 132 signing statements challenging over 810 provisions of federal laws. In the 211 years of our nation's history preceding 2000, presidents issued fewer than 600 signing statements that took issue with the bills they signed.

In response to Bush's use of signing statements, the American Bar Association's House of Delegates adopted a policy recommendation at their annual meeting in August opposing the "misuse" of presidential signing statements "as contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers." The report of the ABA's Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine is at: www.abanet.org/op/signingstatements/ aba_final_signing_statements_recommendation-report_7-24-06.pdf. You'll find OTG.org's 2005 Secrecy Report Card at: www.openthegovernment.org/otg/SRC2006.pdf.


Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative
Edward B. WIlliams Law Library
111 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-1417
202/662-9200 * FAX:202/662-9202
email:baish@law.georgetown.edu

 


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