VerDate 0ct 09 2002
STATEMENT OF MEREDITH FUCHS, GENERAL COUNSEL, NA- TIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNI- VERSITY, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Ms. FUCHS. Thank you, Senator Cornyn. Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about the reforms that would be enacted by the OPEN Government Act of 2005. I wish to commend the cosponsors of this bill, Senator Cornyn and Senator Leahy. Each of you has an established record as a defender of open government and we appreciate the effort you are making to make our government more responsive and accountable to the citizens.
I have extensive experience in the Freedom of Information Act. The National Security Archive, of which I am the General Counsel, is one of the most active and successful nonprofit users of the FOIA in this country. Our work has resulted in more than six million pages of documents that otherwise would be secret today being available to the public, and we have conducted two studies of Fed- eral Government administration of the FOIA and most of my re- marks today are based on what we learned doing those audits.
I want to start by talking about why FOIA is important. In a world in which terrorism is commonplace and where the people are caught in a balance of terror, our soldiers are fighting the war to promote democratic ideals, an informed citizenry is the most impor- tant weapon that the country has, an informed citizenry that will support and be loyal to its government.
Our FOIA law is one of the best mechanisms for empowering the public to participate in governance. The fact of the matter is that there is a reflex of secrecy in the government right now. People are afraid to open up the proceedings of government to the public. But in many cases, there is a need for the public to know what is hap- pening, to know what the risks are that they face.
Certainly national security is a very real and important concern, but it is not the only concern and there is often times when it can be impacted by public activity. Just last summer, Congressman Shays of Connecticut gave a striking example of the paradox that is caused by secrecy and against the public interest in disclosure. He talked about a 1991 Department of Defense Inspector General report that was classified that showed that 40 percent of the gas masks used by our military leaked. He couldn’t talk about the re- port because it was classified. He couldn’t tell his constituents who were soldiers who fought in the Gulf War what happened and why they might have Gulf War illnesses.
Six years later, finally, the report was declassified and people could learn what was the cause of their Gulf War illnesses. The rest is history, so to speak. Those are the kinds of things that the public needs to know and that the government needs to acknowl- edge so that instead of hiding these secrets, we can confront the problems and fix them.
Indeed, this is the lesson of the inquiries concerning the Sep- tember 11 attacks on the United States. It was most directly ad- dressed by Eleanor Hill, the Staff Director of the joint House-Sen- ate Intelligence Committee investigation, who said, quote, ‘‘The record suggests that prior to September 11, the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities were fighting a war against ter-
09:04 Nov 08, 2005