SECRECY NEWS
from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2006, Issue No. 109
October 18, 2006

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ODNI PLAN SEEKS TO FOSTER INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY INTEGRATION

The U.S. intelligence community can and should form a more integrated whole without its member agencies sacrificing their individual character, according to a Five Year Strategic Human Capital Plan from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

"A truly integrated IC is the only answer to the myriad threats that we face," the newly disclosed June 2006 Plan states.

But "a national intelligence 'service' does not depend on or require a monolithic, homogeneous institutional culture, or a one-size-fits-all set of personnel rules and procedures (although some uniformity will undoubtedly be necessary)."

"I absolutely respect the cultures and traditions of the individual agencies," Ron Sanders, the ODNI Chief Human Capital Officer told Secrecy News. "But this is one team, one fight. We have to come together in an integrated way."

The 47 page Human Capital Plan accordingly outlines an approach to achieving what it calls "unity without uniformity."

The term "human capital" (now used in place of "human resources") encompasses all aspects of personnel management, from recruitment, hiring, salary and benefits, to training, promotion and termination. While it is not an intelligence function per se, it cuts to the core of the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy.

The Plan also provides new insight into a host of challenging intelligence community personnel matters, including workforce diversity, competition with the commercial sector, "generation gaps" within the intelligence community and security clearance policy.

A copy was released today in response to a request from Secrecy News.

See "The US Intelligence Community's Five Year Strategic Human Capital Plan," June 22, 2006 (released October 18, 2006):


PATENT OFFICE REPORTS ON INVENTION SECRECY

Under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951, the government may impose a secrecy order on patent applications submitted to the Patent Office whenever the disclosure of the inventions described in such applications "might be detrimental to the national security."

At the end of Fiscal Year 2006, there were 4,942 secrecy orders in effect, a slight increase from the previous year's total of 4,915, according to data provided to Secrecy News by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office under the Freedom of Information Act (and very promptly, too).

During 2006 itself, 108 new invention secrecy orders were imposed, while 81 were rescinded. The precise character of the inventions that were subjected to new controls could not be ascertained, which is the whole point. However, it should be possible, if logistically challenging, to identify inventions that were formerly subject to a secrecy order but are no longer. We haven't tried to do so lately. But they typically involve technologies that have specific military applications.

The large majority of invention secrecy orders are imposed on patent applications in which the government has a property interest, perhaps having funded the development of the invention. But each year, there are also so-called "John Doe" secrecy orders which prohibit the disclosure of inventions created by private inventors or businesses where the government has no property interest, thereby raising thorny First Amendment issues. In 2006, there were 29 new "John Doe" invention secrecy orders.

The latest statistics and other background on invention secrecy can be found here:


ATTORNEY GENERAL REPORTS ON FOIA

Executive Branch agencies have implemented President Bush's December 2005 executive order 13392 on improving the processing of Freedom of Information Act requests "in a vigorous manner fully commensurate with the importance of this unprecedented Presidential initiative," according to an enthusiastic new report to the President from the Attorney General.

The President's order "has had an immediate and widespread positive effect on the operations of the Federal agencies that administer the FOIA," the report states.

"All 91 federal agencies subject to the FOIA have prepared improvement plans, have refined them wherever necessary, and have posted them on their Web sites for public review," according to the Justice Department. These and related steps "already have yielded significant results."

From a public access point of view, however, the results seem less significant, particularly since the executive order did not alter disclosure policy or standards at all. Instead, it sought to improve processing and productivity under the existing disclosure standards, while reducing backlogs.

As a result, some of the reforms of which the new report boasts may loom large within the government, but still appear inconsequential from the outside.

For example, using post cards to acknowledge receipt of FOIA requests instead of more formal letters is a "novel idea," the Attorney General says in his new report. It "holds great potential for improving the process." It is "an outstanding idea," the report strangely insists. "The simple use of postcards rather than standard written letters... could save countless hours."

Unfortunately, this won't do. Efficiency, while welcome, is not the same as productivity. And the executive order does little to improve productivity.

So, for example, the Federation of American Scientists sued the National Reconnaissance Office last year to compel that agency to provide unclassified budget data under the FOIA, and Judge Reggie B. Walton of the D.C. District Court ruled in our favor last July and ordered the NRO to process our request.

But although the NRO and its Justice Department representatives were unfailingly "courteous," as required by President Bush's executive order, the requested documents have still not been provided. Instead, the Justice Department is now seeking to overturn Judge Walton's order on appeal. More rudeness would be preferable if it were accompanied by more records.

Even by the yardstick of efficiency, the current FOIA regime shows a certain lack of imagination.

Perhaps the single most important step that agencies could take would be to routinely post FOIA responses on agency web sites. A number of agencies have long archived their FOIA releases in their reading rooms, where they can be manually searched. Other agencies post certain frequently requested records on their web sites on occasion. But routinely posting such documentary releases, instead of simply providing them to the individual requester, would magnify the utility of the product and enrich the FOIA process. It could be even better than post cards.

See "Attorney General's Report to the President Pursuant to Executive Order 13,392, Entitled 'Improving Agency Disclosure of Information'," October 16, 2006 (1.2 MB PDF):

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Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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