Newsweek's Jonathan Alter looks back at the history of White House secrecy as openness morphs from "geeky" to "hip." He calls for a mandate that all of the government's private sector contracts be made public, which he says will lead to competitors racing to "convince the government they can do the same things cheaper."
For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city." Those were the most important words President Obama spoke on his first full day in office. Obama then signed executive orders to shift the balance back toward openness in government. At least in theory, the burden of proof will move from those who would release information to those who would classify it. It's significant Obama led off this way. He went right after not just George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but an eternal bureaucratic impulse. Will Obama's emphasis on discipline and control eventually lead him to share that impulse? We'll see.
Thomas Jefferson argued that "information is the currency of democracy," and for generations peacetime America respected the principle. Believing, as Secretary of State Henry Stimson did, that "gentlemen don't read other gentlemen's mail," the nation chose not to even have an intelligence service until World War II. Then came the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 and the National Security Act of 1947, which essentially said that a certain constantly expanding category of information was "born classified." That means no formal process for assessing if something should be secret or not—just an officious bureaucrat with a big stamp.