One of the least attractive aspects of President Bush’s administration has been its obsessive and unnecessary secrecy, and it’s hardly likely to do his legacy any good.
Bush could go a long way toward rectifying that by adopting and implementing the recommendations of the joint presidential-congressional Public Interest Declassification Board issued this week.
Universally, it is agreed that the federal government needlessly classifies far too much information and then is glacial about declassifying it. The Bush administration didn’t help matters when, shortly after it took office, it instructed agencies to err on the side of secrecy.
Not only is it too easy for bureaucrats to wield a classified stamp, there are no uniform standards for what should be kept secret and what should not. There are good reasons, national security being foremost, for withholding certain information for at least a time. But the fact is, these are taxpayer-paid public records and in time the public, in the form of historians, researchers, journalists and the merely curious, deserves access to them.
The board calls for uniform standards for classifying documents and a computerized system for keeping track of them. A National Declassification Center would then be responsible for systematically declassifying them.
One useful recommendation would be to build a single secure facility to house all classified presidential records for the duration of a president’s term. As the documents are declassified, they would be turned over to the appropriate presidential library. This would serve the dual function of both securing the documents and preserving them. This is, after all, our history.