NCC Advocacy Update

NCC Advocacy Update, January 1994

Page Putnam Miller, January 1994

Agencies Respond to Government Management Initiatives

As a part of broad "reinventing government" initiatives, the Congress passed the Government Performance and Results Act, and President Clinton issued two executive orders and a presidential memorandum.

On August 3, the president signed Public Law 103-62, the Government Performance and Results Act, and soon afterward the administration released the report "From Red Tape to Results: Creating a Government That Works Better and Costs Less." This report described the problem in government as "industrial-era bureaucracies in an information age" and proposed solutions in four key categories: cutting red tape, which focuses on reducing regulations, putting the customer first, empowering employees to get results, and getting back to basics. This legislation requires all federal agencies to adopt strategic plans by fiscal year 1998, prepare annual plans by 1999 that contain performance goals based on the strategic plans, and report annually to Congress on actual performance beginning in 2000.

On September 11, President Clinton issued executive orders and a memorandum to begin the implementation of the performance review initiatives that do not require additional legislation. Executive Order 12861, entitled "Elimination of One-half of Executive Branch Internal Regulations," requires each executive department and agency to eliminate not less than 50 percent of its civilian internal management regulations that are not required by law within three years. The reductions in regulations are aimed at increasing productivity, streamlining operations, and improving customer service.

Executive Order 12862, entitled "Setting Customer Service Standards," begins with the affirmation that "Putting people first means ensuring that the federal government provides the highest quality service possible to the American people." This order requires agencies to become "customer-driven." To achieve the goals of providing the highest quality service, executive departments and agencies are to identify their customers, survey them, post service standards, give customers choices in both the sources of service and the means of delivery, and make information, services, and complaint systems easily accessible. This order calls for agencies to report on the results of a survey of their customers by March 8, 1994, and to publish a customer service plan by September 8, 1994.

In a presidential memorandum to all heads of departments and agencies, entitled "Streamlining the Bureaucracy," Clinton calls for the reduction of the executive branch civilian work force by 252,000 or not less than 12 percent by the end of fiscal year 1999. This memorandum specifically directs agencies to reduce the ratio of managers and supervisors to employees. The government in general has an estimated ratio of 1:7 of managers to other personnel. The goal for the entire federal bureaucracy is to achieve a 1:15 ratio of managers to employees within five years. This initiative seeks to reduce overcontrol and micromanagement that hamper efficiency. All executive branch agencies were to have submitted by December 1, 1993, a streamlining plan to the Office of Management and Budget.

Congress is engaging in some of its own "reinventing" initatives, and the Library of Congress will be subject to congressional and not executive directives. But executive branch agencies, such as the National Archives, were hard at work at the end of November putting the finishing touches on their first attempts at developing streamlining plans. For some agencies, like the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), there are strong indications that the goals for reduction in staff can be met through attrition. And NEH, like many other agencies, is focusing on how to upgrade its computer systems to increase management efficiency. The National Archives, which began a very intensive strategic planning process over a year ago, has built on that work to develop a draft reorganizational plan that would offer a bold new approach for the way the National Archives does its business and interacts with its users. As federal agencies begin next year to move from the conceptualization to the implementation phase, we can expect to see many changes.

Congressional Hearing on Implementation of the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Legislation

Over a year ago the president signed Public Law 102–526, which called for public disclosure of almost all of the government records on the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. During a hearing held on November 18, John Conyers (D-Mich.), chair of the House Committee on Government Operations, noted that secrecy fuels the growing distrust in government. He stated that the best way to deal with this problem of distrust is through increased openness. Conyers, along with Rep. Alfred McCandless (R-Calif.), expressed dismay that many federal agencies had not complied with the assassination records law and that the five members of the review board, which has the task of deciding which records should remained closed, had yet to be confirmed.

Although the House Government Operations Committee invited a number of agency officials to testify, only the Acting U.S. Archivist Trudy Huskamp Peterson accepted. She reviewed the various deadlines established by the law and discussed how the National Archives had met the deadlines for developing a database finding aid system, establishing the collection, and making available to the public records that had been declassified and transferred to the National Archives by other agencies. While members of Congress as well as other witnesses commended the National Archives for its work, it was clear that most other agencies had not complied with the legislation. The law required federal agencies and congressional committees to make initial disclosures by August 23, 1993. Yet some key agencies, including the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Naval Investigative Service, and both House and Senate intelligence committees, had not by the time of the hearing in November transferred a single record to the National Archives. Specialists at the National Archives estimate that only 10 to 20 percent of all Kennedy assassination records are now open to the public.

Other hearing witnesses, mostly authors of books on the JFK assassination, discussed the importance of full disclosure of federal records related to the assassination. Several witnesses made the point that the new material may not uncover a "smoking gun" but will probably reveal how various federal agencies worked to cover up their handling of the assassination.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee has indicated that it plans to hold confirmation hearings on the nominees to the review board as soon as possible after the Senate reconvenes in January.

CIA Signals Plans for Greater Openness

In a hearing last fall before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Director of Central Intelligence R. James Woolsey discussed CIA initatives to declassify Cold War records. Woolsey noted that the CIA was using a "block review" process instead of tedious line-by-line reviews on analyses and national intelligence estimates on topics of special historical value that are thirty years old or older. This method of scanning documents, Woolsey said, would be used on over 350 estimates and thousands of analytical papers.

Woolsey also announced in this hearing his decision to review for declassification significant Cold War covert actions more than thirty years old. These include, he stated, activities in support of democracy in France and Italy in the 1940s and 1950s, support to anti-Sukarno rebels in Indonesia in 1958, support of Tibetan guerrillas in the 1950s and early 1960s, operations against North Korea during the Korean War, operations in Laos in the 1960s, the Bay of Pigs operation, the coups against President Arbenz of Guatemala and against Prime Minister Mossadeq in Iran, operations in the Dominican Republic and the Congo, and the Berlin crisis records of the 1950s and early 1960s. These initiatives are part, Woolsey said, of efforts "to support the president's goal of changing the way we handle intelligence information" and "to help serious scholars and researchers understand recent history as completely as we can."

While the scholarly community applauds new openness initiatives at the CIA, many veteran researchers who have long sought CIA records have a wait-and-see attitude. In 1992, with much fanfare, the CIA issued a publication of selected documents on the Cuban Missile Crisis, yet the large majority of records related to this event remain closed.