This was a vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Akin (R-MO) to the bill providing fiscal year 2010 funding for the Defense Department. The amendment would have required the Defense Secretary to submit to Congress a report on any non-disclosure agreements signed by Defense Department employees regarding their official duties. The report would have described topics covered by the agreements, the number of employees required to sign such agreements, the duration of the agreements, the types of persons covered, and the reasons for requiring such agreements. Matters relating to security clearances would have been excluded.
The reason Rep. Akin offered the amendment was his concern that the Obama Administration was using the non-disclosure agreements to prevent Congress from receiving sensitive defense information. Akin, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said that there had always been good relationships “between the legislative branch and the Pentagon. Unfortunately, these nondisclosure statements (may be) . . . muzzling our admirals and generals and preventing them from giving us data that we need to be able to do our job.”
Rep. Forbes (R-VA), who co-sponsored the amendment, noted that the first executive order of the Obama Administration “said democracy requires accountability and accountability requires transparency. And the first things they do, when it comes to national defense, they issue gag orders to hundreds of people in the Pentagon . . . They classified the inspections on our vessels so we can't know the difficulty we have with maintenance requirements. They refused to certify that the budget would meet our shipbuilding plan as required by law. They refused to even send over a shipbuilding plan. They refused to certify an aviation plan that the budget would meet, that is required by law. They refused to even send over an aviation plan, and they refused to give us the out year projections on what the budget dollars would actually be.” Forbes said the purpose of the amendment is to “try to rein in some of these gag orders . . . .”
Rep. McKeon (R-CA), the Ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, supported the amendment. He said it was about transparency. McKeon argued that “Congress cannot sit back and let the Department of Defense stiff-arm us. Congress has a constitutional duty to raise and support armies, provide and maintain a Navy, to make rules for the government, regulation of the land and naval forces. We can't allow the Department of Defense to prevent us from exercising our constitutional duty.”
Rep. Skelton (D-MO), the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, opposed the amendment, although it he said it had “a worthy goal”. Skelton argued that its language would effectively “overwhelm the Pentagon and harm critical Department of Defense efforts. They won't have time to do much more than comply with this amendment. It is drafted in such a way that it just couldn't be done.” Skelton noted that the Department of Defense “routinely enters into such agreements to protect the privacy of service members and, of course, to protect sensitive information. As a result, the amendment would require several reports on thousands of non-disclosed agreements.”
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 186-226. One hundred and sixty-nine Republicans and seventeen Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and twenty-three Democrats and three Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, language was not added to the 2010 fiscal year Defense Department funding bill requiring the Defense Secretary to submit to Congress a report on any non-disclosure agreements.