The nightmare of the Bush Administration that brought us eight long years of neo-con rule is almost over. I can honestly say that the United States was closer to losing its way than I have ever seen it in my lifetime. When I say “losing its way” I’m talking about operating outside the rule of law, and having our government basically ignore its responsibility to be honest with the American people and to at least consider the American people’s wishes in its decisions both foreign and domestic.
I’m not naïve. I realize that our nation has often ignored the wishes of the American people and has operated outside the rule of law many times, not only in recent history, but throughout our history. I believe at times it was necessary and I also believe at times, it was not. As I get older, and as revelations emerge as to what has transpired over the years about specific events, I understand to a greater extent how many times our government has kept information from its people, and how many times our government has lied to the people. Sometimes I believe it may have been in the best interests of the nation, and sometimes it was not. In fact, there were times that the government acted illegally and recklessly, and made decisions and performed actions that were definitely not in the peoples best interests. At times these things were done out of a genuine desire to do the right thing in the long run, and sometimes they were not. Either way, we are still here with our representative form of government, somewhat injured, but nevertheless, intact.
If we look at what has transpired during the last eight years in an honest, forthright manner, I believe that our nation has been extremely fortunate that we didn’t lose all of our rights after the savage attack on the Constitution by Bush/Cheney, Addington, Gonzales and all the others that seemed to believe that government administration belonged to the people of privilege. This was reflected by the obvious distain they held the Middle Class in by ignoring labor laws and refusing to increase the minimum wage for nine years until they couldn’t pass up a compromise in estate taxes that the Democrats offered.
Nothing happens in Washington for altruistic reasons. To believe otherwise is to ignore the obvious. When I mention this in conversation, or I write about the lack of morality displayed by those in government, I am reminded that it has always been this way. I maintain that because it has always been this way, it should be expected, and that the government continues to operate not because of its corruption, but in spite of it. I’m sure everyone would agree that if corruption was eradicated, the cost of government would be lower, and that the system would be much more efficient. I am told that this is wishful thinking. All governments throughout history had some level of corruption and that stopping corruption is impossible. While I agree that this is the case, I also believe that reducing the level of corruption is entirely possible. The problem is that before any problem can be corrected, the problem must be recognized and diagnosed. In medicine, the doctor cannot cure a patient no matter how many cures science had discovered. Unless it is acknowledged that the patient has a certain disease or condition, they cannot be effectively treated. The knowledge of how a patient contracted a disease may help to cure the disease, but it is not absolutely needed in most cases, it is usually enough to know what disease is that someone has in order to treat it.
The very same principle applies to government corruption. Transparency is absolutely essential in order for the public to oversee our political process and operations. It’s just commonsense when you think about it. Unless you have all the information available, supporting a certain piece of legislation or a policy, solving problems or offering constructive ideas, voicing opposition or suggesting alternatives all become very difficult. The truth is that we need all the information we can get in order to participate in government. Just as those that occupy a position in government rely on being fully informed, citizens should also demand that they are provided all the information they require. All too often, we hear that certain information cannot be shared with those outside the government because of “national security” issues. When Congress requested that they be briefed on Presidential Directive 51 (Continuity of government), the executive branch refused to honor the request due to “national security issues”. I’m sure that more than a few Congressmen and Senators’ are eligible to upgrade their security clearances in order to be properly informed. This one reason, “national security” has been used far too often in order to keep information away from government officials and the public alike. Therefore, in the interests of “national security”, and also in order to appraise those that feel they need more information than the government is willing to part with, I am offering a few suggestions.
Suggestions for the Obama Administration on Transparency in Government
1. Establish an Office of Transparency in Government (OTIG).
The Federal Government should set a policy whereby members of the government, both State and Federal, as well as American citizens themselves, can access all manner of information to include, but is not limited to proposed legislation, sponsors and co-sponsors of legislation, promises made in furtherance of legislation, campaign contributions from interested parties to any pending or recent legislation, political appointments of government officeholders or Federal workers, gifts to Federal employees or officeholders, visits or meetings with corporate representatives or lobbyists, employment of family members or appointments to corporate or private industry boards or advisory councils or groups. In addition, all officeholders and Federal employees must disclose their investments in order to determine if there is any conflict of interest between business interests and official duties. Scholarships and educational grants to family members, officeholders or Federal employees and any other potential conflict of interest issues must also be disclosed.
2. The Office of Transparency in Government (OTIG) shall exercise final
Determination of information access.
The office will determine if information will be withheld from Federal employees
Because of national security considerations. If there is a reasonable determination
information should be classified, the office will determine what can be disclosed
in order that the interested party has all of the information that can safely be
3. The Office of transparency in Government (OTIG) insures that the media
receives all information on new or pending legislation and any information that the Secretary believes should be disseminated involving operations of the federal government.
There also will be a meeting of an oversight council of members of the OTIG to determine if there is any other information that should be disclosed that the Secretary has not released or has missed.
4. The Office of Transparency in Government (OTIG) will report to the Attorney
General (AG) and be free of Executive Branch control.
This is a watchdog agency and will be relatively free from political or partisan control. The employees of OTIG will be subject to transparency itself and any possible conflict of interest will be disclosed immediately. If there is any redundancy in the Federal system, the OTIG will determine jurisdiction and responsibility for decisions. (This is in case any Federal agency rules differently on release of information).
These are some ideas that I believe will restore precious integrity to the Federal government. Of course, all of these ideas are only a guideline that came off the top of my head, I’m sure that there are many issues that an agency such as this would cover that I missed. I think that this is an idea that is long overdue. Transparency in government is essential if we are to keep our representative form of government. The demise of newspapers, smaller and fewer news outlets have caused the information flow and coverage about the workings of the government in Washington to decrease. Independent journalists that write about politics in Washington could use an agency such as this. Independent journalists work on a shoestring budget, yet they have never been as important as they are at this juncture in our history.
The people of this country need to understand who is behind legislation and they also need to know where any future conflicts of interests and possible trouble spots may occur. The people need to regain a measure of trust in government. This could go a long way to promote these things.
Labels: Bush and Cheney, Obama