17. THE ALA’S FIGHT AGAINST GOVERNMENT SECRECY

by Project Censored

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.

Another 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:

Members 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: TALLY HASTINGS

SOURCE: AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION, Washington Office, 110 Maryland Ave, NE, Washington, DC 20002

TITLE: “Less Access To Less Information By and About the Government: XIV; 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 information 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.”

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