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February 05, 2013

Spreading the Gospel of Transparency in Government

By Jeremy Miller

Last week, CREW participated in a lightning round of presentations on Capitol Hill that focused on transparency.  Akin to a speed dating session with congressional staff, this was an opportunity for more than a dozen groups to advocate for proposals to make the federal government more transparent.

CREW made two presentations.  First, we  called on Congress to address the problem of secrecy of Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memos.  The OLC provides written and oral legal opinions to the executive branch, including the president, attorney general, and heads of departments.  Some of OLC’s opinions pertain to highly controversial actions, such as the legal justification for the torture of detainees, and, more recently, the legal authority for assassinating an American citizen in Yemen.  Creating such a body of secret law breeds public distrust and confusion over the reasons and rationale for the government’s actions.  Making more of these opinions publicly available will allow both Congress and the public to understand what laws and justifications govern executive branch actions.

Second, we called for the timely release of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports to the public.  The CRS issues non-partisan, independent reports covering issues that shape legislation and policy, and are written exclusively for consumption by members of Congress and their staff.  For Congress, all it takes is a quick search of the CRS website to comb through a treasure trove of policy reports, providing staff with the research and guidance they need to get the job done.  For the general public, however, accessing these reports — paid for by the taxpayers — is tedious, and sometimes impossible.  To be clear, we are not advocating for the release of confidential memoranda between CRS and individual members of Congress, but only those reports CRS makes generally available to all members and congressional staff.  Each year, taxpayers spend more than $100 million on the CRS, and we believe the public has the same right as Congress to access these reports. 

There were fourteen other presentations by a diverse cadre of organizations, including Judicial Watch, the Center for Responsive Politics, and Center for Effective Government.  Click here to watch and listen to some of the most innovative proposals to shine a greater light on your government.

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