Congressional Lawmaking: A Perspective On Secrecy and Transparency

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on December 5, 2011

CRS – Congressional Lawmaking: A Perspective On Secrecy and Transparency – Walter J. Oleszek, Senior Specialist in American National Government, November 30, 2011

  • “Openness is fundamental to representative government. Yet the congressional process is replete with activities and actions that are private and not observable by the public. How to distinguish reasonable legislative secrecy from impractical transparency is a topic that produces disagreement on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. Why? Because lawmaking is critical to the governance of the nation. Scores of people in the attentive public want to observe and learn about congressional proceedings. Yet secrecy is an ever-present part of much legislative policymaking; however, secrecy and transparency are not “either/or” constructs. They overlap constantly during the various policymaking stages. The objectives of this report are four-fold:
    • first, to outline briefly the historical and inherent tension between secrecy and transparency in the congressional process;

    • second, to review several common and recurring secrecy/transparency issues that emerged again with the 2011 formation of the Joint Select Deficit Reduction Committee;
    • third, to identify various lawmaking stages typically imbued with closed door activities; and
    • fourth, to close with several summary observations.”
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