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We believe an open government is key to unlocking progress in many areas of public policy. Information empowers individuals to engage on issues they’re passionate about and hold those in power accountable.
Consider the alternative: a government that operates largely behind closed doors. Without access to records, researchers can’t effectively study our criminal justice system. Having a broadened conversation about U.S. foreign policy is near-impossible, if much of what occurs is kept secret. Without government transparency, holding lawmakers accountable for corporate welfare schemes would be futile.
Just take a look at what is occurring at the Office of Legal Counsel, a part of the Department of Justice. OLC has had the power to interpret the Constitution and issue opinions that bind government agencies — without releasing those opinions to the public. Some include matters as consequential as:
It’s time for OLC to step out from behind closed doors. A broad coalition agrees.
A group of 20 organizations — including AFP, Demand Progress, Americans Civil Liberties Union, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Freedom Works — sent a letter to members of the Senate and House Appropriations subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. The coalition is calling for legislation that would provide a list of the titles, authors and dates of issuance of all final OLC opinions. And just last week the House committee passed a report including the coalition’s recommendations.
“We represent organizations that fall on a wide spectrum of values and priorities,” the coalition wrote. “Despite the differences in our work, we all agree that the OLC operates with too much secrecy, to the detriment of Congressional oversight and public understanding of the law.”
The bottom line is that government transparency makes it possible to meaningfully engage in civic life.
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