Despite early promises of openness, the Bush administration has drawn widespread criticism for its stark lack of transparency. Rates of declassification under the Bush White House nosedived to a fraction of what was done under the Clinton administration, while new classification of documents reached a 15-year high. Open government watchdogs cite numerous examples of excessive secrecy, among them: an October 2001 memo by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft reversed nearly 40 years of presumed openness under the Freedom of Information Act; an executive order allowed current and former presidents to delay the release of presidential papers indefinitely; widespread use of “Sensitive But Unclassified” markings prevented public release and interagency sharing of material; and the administration refused to share with Congress information pertaining to, among other areas, the Vice President’s National Energy Policy Development Group. The cost to taxpayers of securing government secrets reached a record $9.91 billion in 2007, according to the federal Information Security Oversight Office. Bush’s ex-White House press secretary Scott McClellan decried his former boss and the administration’s inner circle for being “the most secretive administration” in the history of Washington. The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment, but Bush administration officials have in the past argued that the 9/11 attacks and ensuing war on terrorism demanded greater information security and secrecy.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama vowed to “turn the page on a growing empire of classified information and restore the balance we’ve lost between the necessarily secret and the necessity of openness in a democratic society.”