Legislative Secrecy Declines, But Endures

12.05.11 | 1 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Congress is the most transparent and publicly accessible branch of government, and yet there are many aspects of the legislative process that are opaque and off-limits to public awareness, according to a disquisition on legislative secrecy from the Congressional Research Service.

“Compared with the White House, the executive branch, and the Supreme Court, the U.S. Congress is the most transparent national governmental institution,” the CRS report said.  “Yet the congressional process is replete with activities and actions that are private and not observable by the public.”

“Both secrecy and transparency suffuse the lawmaking process,” the report said. “Legislative secrecy has clearly declined over the decades, but it has been part of the policymaking process from Congress’s very beginning, and it remains an integral aspect of the lawmaking process.”

“Today, Congress operates largely in the sunshine. Ironically, studies have shown that the more open Congress has become, the less the citizenry like what they see, hear, and read about the lawmaking process.”

The report describes the motivations and occasions for legislative secrecy, which it says can facilitate legislative negotiations, promote candor, and foster free deliberation.  The CRS report does not mention the congressional policy of denying direct public access to CRS reports, or the persistent public efforts to defeat that policy.

See “Congressional Lawmaking: A Perspective On Secrecy and Transparency,” November 30, 2011.