More than sixty groups call for revocation of presidential secrecy directive
John Byrne
Published: Wednesday November 12, 2008

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More than 60 organizations called on President-elect Barack Obama Wednesday to revoke President George W. Bush's executive order on presidential secrecy and lift the veil in numerous areas of governmental furtiveness.

The groups' recommendations demand efficiency and openness from the Freedom of Information Act process, reforms in the classification system to reduce overclassification and ensure that presidential records are handled in accordance with US law and congressional intent.

Among the groups include the National Security Archive, OMB Watch -- a watchdog group of the White House Office of Management and Budget -- and the Radio Television News Directors Association.

"President-elect Obama can make a difference on Day One in the way his administration relates to the public," National Security Archive's general counsel Meredith Fuchs said in a release. "Secrecy got out of control in the last eight years, but a few focused directives will go a long way towards reopening the government."

Among the proposals include requests for Obama to:

* Issue a memorandum on the Freedom of Information Act that establishes a policy of maximum possible public disclosure of government records and directing an attorney general memo that reinstitutes the presumption of openness under FOIA, calls on agencies to use technology to engage with and inform the public, and commits to creating a more collaborative and less adversarial relationship with the public on issues involving access to information.

* Revoke President Bush's executive order on the Presidential Records Act, which undermined the PRA by purporting to create new constitutional privileges for the family members and descendents of former presidents and for former vice presidents; commit to working with NARA and Congress to ensure necessary oversight for the transfer and processing of the Bush presidential records; and establish a policy for the new administration to preserve all presidential records of administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value.

* Issue a presidential directive rejecting prior abuses of the classification system and tasking the relevant executive branch agencies to develop a new executive order on classification that will reduce overclassification, add internal mechanisms to prevent classification abuses, ensure consideration of the public interest throughout the lifecycle of classified information, and improve the declassification process and information sharing.

President Bush has acted to withhold governmental information from the public.

"In early 2002, then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft issued a memo to government agencies urging them to reject requests for access to public documents allowed under the Freedom of Information Act if they could find a legal argument against the release," the Washington Post reported Tuesday. "It was a reversal from the Clinton administration's stance, which assumed that records were public unless government proved otherwise."

More information is available at the National Security Archive website.