House Moves to Open Homeland Security A Bit

Charles Davis
June 26, 2008 — 1,231 views  
Become a Bronze Member for monthly eNewsletter, articles, and white papers.

Congress on Thursday will take a major step in rolling back the tide of secrecy that has swept through government since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, with the House Homeland Security Committee poised to pass two bills making the Homeland Security Department more transparent.

Both bills are expected to pass the committee easily: One would crack down on too-frequent use of classification, while the other would go after "pseudo-classification" - the new labels such as "for official use only" that have popped up to keep even unclassified documents out of the hands of the public and other government agencies.

"This is more than Congress has been able to do in seven years," said Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat and the bills' chief sponsor, who said the bills are the result of an alliance of open-government advocates and those who think the government needs to share more information within its agencies for national security reasons.

Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, is the chief sponsor of two bills aimed at cracking down on overclassification and pseudo-classification within government agencies.

"The dirtiest four-letter word in government is spelled T-U-R-F, and overclassification and pseudo-classification are ways to protect T-U-R-F," Mrs. Harman said.

The Sept. 11 commission blamed a lack of information-sharing among agencies for intelligence failures before the attack, and Republicans and Democrats both want to make sure that new turf battles won't produce a similar breakdown.

A Homeland Security official said late Wednesday that the department opposes both bills.

Charles Davis

Website

Charles N. Davis is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and the executive director for the National Freedom of Information Coalition, headquartered at the School. Davis' scholarly research focuses on access to governmental information and new media law, including jurisdictional issues, intellectual property and online libel. He has earned a Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his work in furthering freedom of information and the University of Missouri-Columbia Provost's Award for Outstanding Junior Faculty Teaching, as well as the Faculty-Alumni Award.