Secrecy News

GAO Posts Titles of Restricted Reports

Updated below

The Government Accountability Office this week quietly published a list of titles of its restricted reports that have not been publicly released because they contain classified information or controlled unclassified information.  A new link to “Restricted Products” appears at the bottom of the GAO homepage (under Reports & Testimonies).

“This list is intended to keep Congress, federal agencies, and the public informed of the existence of these products. The list consists of all such classified or controlled products issued since September 30, 2014 and will be updated each time a new report is issued,” the GAO webpage says.

“We did not issue a statement or announcement” concerning the new listing, said Timothy L. Minelli of GAO Congressional Relations.

A congressional staffer said the move was prompted by concerns expressed by some Members of Congress and staff that they were unaware of the restricted reports, since they had not been indexed or archived by GAO.

Publication of the titles of restricted GAO reports “was not necessarily universally desired by everyone in Congress,” the staffer said, and “it took about a year” to resolve the issue. But “GAO deserves a lot of credit. They decided it was the right thing to do, and they did it.”

Although primarily aimed at congressional consumers, the new webpage also serves to inform the public. GAO is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, but will usually entertain requests for records anyway. However, GAO is not authorized to release information that has been classified or controlled by an executive branch agency.

There are several limitations to the new disclosure policy. It does not reflect restricted GAO reports that were generated prior to 2014. It will not cite titles that are themselves classified. And it will not include reports that focus on an individual intelligence agency.

“We excluded titles of products primarily focused on an element of the intelligence community to be consistent with the general practices of the IG [Inspector General] Offices within that IC community, who generally don’t post these titles,” said Mr. Minelli of GAO. “Only titles of products that that are primarily focused on an element of the IC won’t be listed, which we believe will be a very small number, likely less than a handful per year.”

“More common are GAO products that address activities/operations of IC elements in the context of a broader set of questions we are answering, and the titles of these products are being posted,” he said.

“Finally, in a number of cases and pending the classification and sensitivity reviews conducted by the appropriate agencies, GAO will follow its usual practice of trying to issue public versions of classified and sensitive-but-unclassified  products that have had classified and SBU material removed.  These reports are posted on our website and publicly available,” he said.

Update: A listing of GAO restricted report titles from 1971-2011 was obtained and published by GovernmentAttic.org, which also obtained copies of the first page of each GAO report issued prior to 1972 that remains classified.

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