Monday, February 09, 2009

To Bring the Balance Back Bring It Back

I'm no genius but this seems like it might be important.
Wikileaks publishes a billion dollars of semi-secret reports

Oh boy.
Wikileaks has released nearly a billion dollars worth of quasi-secret reports commissioned by the United States Congress.

The 6,780 reports, current as of this month, comprise over 127,000 pages of material on some of the most contentious issues in the nation, from the U.S. relationship with Israel to abortion legislation. Nearly 2,300 of the reports were updated in the last 12 months, while the oldest report goes back to 1990. The release represents the total output of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) electronically available to Congressional offices. The CRS is Congress's analytical agency and has a budget in excess of $100M per year.

A billion dollars? How does one estimate a dollar value for "quasi-secret reports?"
However that hasn't stopped a grey market forming around the documents. Opportunists smuggle out nearly all reports and sell them to cashed up special interests - lobbyists, law firms, multi-nationals, and presumably, foreign governments. Congress has turned a blind eye to special interest access, while continuing to vote down public access.

Oh. There's a market for government reports. I should have known. That building my car drives to five days a week is a government document depository library, which means the public must be allowed access. Sometimes, that means people sleep on the sofas - okay, every day people sleep on the sofas - but it also means that no member of the public can be denied access to the documents. Those regulations may change as documents are increasingly online only. We have observed a sharp decline in the number of printed titles. The implications are sobering. I remember the first time I held in my hand the NTSB report on the downing of the Korean jetliner. I was holding history and my hand felt hot. Later, it turned out I was allergic to MSG and shouldn't have eaten the egg drop soup, but you know what I'm saying. Back to Congress:
Although all CRS reports are legally in the public domain, they are quasi-secret because the CRS, as a matter of policy, makes the reports available only to members of Congress, Congressional committees and select sister agencies such as the GAO.

Members of Congress are free to selectively release CRS reports to the public but are only motivated to do so when they feel the results would assist them politically. Universally embarrassing reports are kept quiet.

Each time the topic of opening up the reports comes up, it runs into walls erected by opposing lawmakers such as Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who "like many members of Congress, views CRS as an extension of his staff,". If the reports were made public, "every time a member requests a particular document, the public may infer that he's staking out a particular policy position." (Aaron Saunders, Stevens' spokesman, Washington Post, 2007)[4].

This article is having a bit of trouble with time travel, but who doesn't, really? After I visit the Middle Ages, I can't control my split ends, and let's not even discuss Ted Stevens' problem with chapped lips. So there are two lists: alphabetical , which is big and all, and chronological, which suddenly tells a whole different story. This stuff has been a secret? Look at the explosion of documentation during 1998 and 1999, leading to an avalanche of papers by 2000. Some of these reports read like freshman comp papers. What the hell?

Obviously, we've got some reading up to do.



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