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The executive fetish for secrecy has often been satirized, but until recently no steps have been taken to eliminate it. The extent to which documents of interest and importance to the public have been classified beyond the public's reach is still unmeasured. A product of Cold War hysteria, restriction of information has grown into a fundamental of Washington bureaucracy.
This development has been fostered under section of the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act, intended to prevent the secrecy which it has shielded. Executive departments have misused two loopholes in the statute in much the same way that tax evaders withhold information on their earnings.
Under the 1946 regulation all agencies are required to make reports on their operations and to give the public access to all their records. The exceptions, which have been twisted and tortured, provide that the records be classified if they "involve matters of secrecy in the public interest or relate solely to the internal management of an agency."
Bills recently introduced in the Senate and the House are designed to restore the original spirit of the law. This legislation would require that the various departments list the information which they want kept secret. It would thus eliminate the widespread restriction of data essential to an informed electorate.
By tightening, if not closing, the loopholes in the 1946 Act, Congress will reassert its faith in the right of the voters to know about the operations of the government. Until the freest possible flow of information is obtained, no one can competently judge the record of an administration. The present legislation, representing a major step towards eliminating unnecessary secrecy, deserves quick action and unanimous support.
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