12 Days of Christmas Series
The People Demand Transparency & Accountability in Government
In an era where trust in government averages around 16% (Pew Research Center: Public Trust in Government: 1958-2023) and continues to decline, the need for transparency and accountability in our political system has never been more pressing. Americans must begin to raise our collective voices and call upon Congress to enact robust legislation that mandates transparency and accountability at every level of government. Unelected bureaucrats should not be able to deny Congress access to programs, private defense contractors should not be able to silo and wall themselves off from scrutiny, and entrenched committee members should not be able to gut legislation to protect their donors when a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders call for transparency.
From opaque decision-making processes to packaging unpopular provisions into “must pass legislation” like the National Defense Authorization Act, from instances of corruption and misuse of public funds to blatantly and illegally picking winner and losers in the private sector, the federal government, especially in the defense department, is out of control. This isn't just a political issue; it's a matter of public integrity and democratic health. Unelected bureaucrats cannot be allowed to block Congressional inquiry under the guise of national security, award contracts without engaging the public, or manage hundreds of millions of dollars with no oversight. In the same vein, Congress should not be able to secretly pack bills like the National Defense Authorization Act with unpopular FISA reauthorizations because the reauthorizations cannot stand on their own. When citizens are kept in the dark, skepticism grows, conspiracy theories abound, and the foundational trust that is essential for a functioning democracy erodes.
Transparency and accountability are the antidote to this growing distrust. Organizations like Open Secrets and Coalition for Integrity are not just about making data available; they are about making it accessible and understandable to the average citizen. President Barack Obama launched the Open Government Initiative, but the executive branch is not where transparency and accountability has to start. When government activities are transparent, they become subject to public scrutiny, ensuring that decisions are made in the best interest of the populace and not a select few. Congress must make transparency and accountability a priority moving forward.
Moreover, accountability is a critical component of a healthy democracy and a foundational element of the rule of law. Public officials, elected by the people, must be answerable to those they represent, and bureaucrats must be answerable to the elected representatives of the people. This means establishing clear standards for ethical conduct, providing avenues for public feedback, and implementing effective mechanisms for investigating misconduct and holding bad actors accountable.
The call for action is clear: Congress must pass legislation that fortifies transparency and accountability. This legislation should encompass several key areas:
Open Data Laws: Mandate that all non-sensitive government data be made publicly available in a comprehensible format. This includes financial records, legislative information, and policy decisions. Decisions not to release information cannot be made by siloed bureaucrats. Secrets can be necessary, but the decision to keep them secret must be made by people who can be held accountable by the voters.
Ethics and Conduct Standards: Establish strict ethical guidelines for public officials and private sector companies contracted by the government. These guidelines must include mechanisms for transparent disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and financial dealings.
Public Engagement Platforms: Create and maintain accessible platforms for citizens to voice their concerns, offer feedback, and engage in the policy-making process, and create a committee whose duty it is to read, categorize, consolidate, and react or respond to such feedback.
Oversight and Enforcement: Strengthen oversight committees and watchdog entities to monitor government activities and enforce accountability standards effectively.
Whistleblower Protections: Ensure robust protections for individuals who come forward to report governmental or private government contractor wrongdoing. Safeguard them from retaliation and provide incentives for coming forward to report misconduct.
This isn't merely about enacting laws; it's about restoring faith in our democratic institutions and reversing the downward spiral of public trust in government.
Transparency and accountability are not the enemies of efficient government but its essential allies. They foster an environment where corruption is challenged, inefficiency is addressed, and public trust is sought after and respected.
The onus is on Congress to heed this call. It's time for our representatives to step up and pass comprehensive legislation calling for a transparent, accountable, and, ultimately, more effective government. As constituents, our role is to hold our representatives to this task, ensuring that our voices are heard and heeded. Together, let's build a government that truly is of the people, by the people, and for the people.