During George W. Bush’s first and second terms, his administration has slowed the release of essential government information to a trickle, in most cases to avoid unflattering public scrutiny. This has gone largely unnoticed by the general public. After all, with a war going on and a different celebrity getting thrown in the clink every other week, what’s a suppressed report here, some redacted testimony there, a wee bit of executive privilege over there, there, and there?
Dick Cheney’s aversion to the sunlight has made headlines so often that his latest information crackdown is more likely to be fodder for David Letterman than it is to spark outrage. Still, if the average citizen saw a grocery list of all the instances of government suppression over the past seven years, it’s a good guess it would lead to an outcry. Something like: Hey, what the hell happened to the public’s right to know?
Enter TPMmuckraker.com . Since 2006 the newshounds at the investigative website have been keeping a running tally of the diminishing access to government information. Reporter Steve Benen got the list started over at his own blog, the Carpetbagger Report. Then his fellow Muckrakers joined in by trawling the news and—as is the website’s custom—tapping the collective wisdom of their readers to cobble together a dossier on an administration that has, as deputy editor Paul Kiel writes, “discontinued annual reports, classified normally public data, de-funded studies, quieted underlings, and generally done whatever was necessary to keep bad information under wraps.”
Here, Utne Reader presents an excerpted (but not redacted) version of the list Kiel continues to compile.
• If the intelligence community disagrees with the administration’s take on Iraq, Iran, or al-Qaida, don’t expect to hear about it. In October 2007 national intelligence director Mike McConnell reversed the practice of declassifying and releasing summaries of national intelligence estimates.
• In 2005, after a government report showed an increase in terrorism around the world, the administration announced it would stop publishing its annual report on international terrorism.
• In 2004 the FBI attempted to retroactively classify public information from congressional briefings regarding the case of whistleblower Sibel Edmonds. The FBI translator had blamed corruption and incompetence for stalling the bureau’s translation efforts before and after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
• In 2003 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bowed to White House pressure and deleted the global warming section from its annual “Report on the Environment.”
• On March 19, 2007, Philip Cooney, a petroleum lobbyist who served as chief of staff for the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about his extensive edits to environmental reports over the past several years. According to the New York Times, the committee report showed “hundreds of instances” of edits that tempered information on the destructive impact of global warming.
• In October 2007 the administration excised congressional testimony from Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regarding the negative health implications of climate change.
• A 2006 rule change at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) restricts its scientists from publishing or discussing research without that information first being screened by higher-ups at the agency. Special screening, the amended rules stated, will be given to “findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed.” The USGS scientists cover such controversial topics as global warming. Before, studies were released after an anonymous peer review of the research.
• The EPA announced in 2006 plans to close several libraries that were used by researchers and scientists. The agency called its decision a cost-cutting measure, but a 2004 report showed that the facilities actually saved the EPA $7.5 million the previous year.
• In March 2006 the administration announced it would no longer produce the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, which identifies those programs that best assist low-income families and tracks health insurance coverage and child support.
• When an annual report called “Budget Information for States” showed the federal government shortchanging states in the midst of fiscal crises in 2003, Bush’s Office of Management and Budget announced that it was discontinuing the report, which some said was the only source for comprehensive data on state funding from the federal government.
• In December 2002 the Labor Department curtailed funding to the Mass Layoffs Statistics program, which released monthly data on the number and size of layoffs by U.S. companies. Bush’s father attempted to kill the same program in 1992, but Clinton revived it when he assumed the presidency.
• In 2004 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) stopped providing data demonstrating the level of its job performance. In 2006 a federal judge forced the IRS to provide the information.
• In early 2001 the Treasury Department stopped producing reports showing how the benefits of tax cuts were distributed by income class.
• For more than a year, the Interior Department refused to release a 2005 study showing that a government subsidy for oil companies was not effective.
• The National Council for Research on Women’s MisInformation Clearinghouse project found that under Bush, the Department of Labor removed from its website “Don’t Work in the Dark—Know Your Rights,” a publication informing women of their workplace rights. The Department of Labor also scrubbed its website of more than a dozen fact sheets on women’s workplace issues such as women in management, earning differences between men and women, child care concerns, and minority women in the workplace. In February 2004 the appointed head of the Office of Special Counsel—created to protect government employees’ rights—ordered removed from a government website information on the rights of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals in the public workplace.
• In November 2007 a U.S. District Court judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the White House from destroying back-up copies of millions of e-mails deleted (the White House says accidentally) between March 2003 and October 2005.
• In 2006 the Federal Communications Commission ordered destroyed all copies of an unreleased 2004 draft report concluding that media consolidation hurt local TV news coverage, a position that runs counter to Bush’s pro-consolidation stance.
• In March 2006 the Department of Health and Human Services took down a six-year-old website devoted to substance abuse and treatment information for gays and lesbians after members of the conservative Family Research Council complained.
• The White House Office of National Drug Policy paid for a $43 million study that concluded, in 2005, that their anti-drug ad campaigns did not work—but it refused to release those findings for a year and a half.
• When the Department of Education found that charter schools were underperforming in 2004, the administration said it would sharply cut back on the information it collects about charter schools.
Excerpted from TPMmuckraker.com (Nov. 23, 2007).