As the country celebrates its first-ever Sunshine Week, a nationwide newspaper, TV, radio and magazine forum on the public's right to an open government, a series of Associated Press reports have cast a cloud over the party. In spite of the public's deep concerns about government secrecy, since 1998 federal departments have filled fewer Freedom of Information Act requests in full -- while the number of requests for information has risen steadily, especially following the Sept. 11 attacks.
The government met the increased demand with unprecedented resistance. After 9/11, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card issued memos suggesting that agencies be more careful in granting FOIA requests; they cited national security concerns. Since then, the government has also pulled many documents off its Web sites, creating14 million new classified documents in 2003 -- a large increase over 2001. Now, access even to the safety records of a natural gas plant in a small American town can be denied.
"Instead of government officials being considered public servants, they are now more and more like gatekeepers who can determine what the public can know," said Steven Aftergood, Director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, according to the AP. "That's a profound change."