Summary of the Problem

Every candidate promises more transparency if elected, and yet post-election actions never quite seem to match up with the pre-election rhetoric. Unfortunately, government transparency seems to exist solely at the discretion of public officials. The burden, more often than not, rests on the shoulders of citizens and journalists looking for basic information about their government. Officials used to be able to hide behind excuses such as cost and time when they had to provide printed documents, but with technology today, sharing information with constituents has never been easier, quicker, or cheaper. Some factions of society try to define transparency as exposing how you, a private citizen, spend your money. However, authentic transparency is defined as exposing how the government spends taxpayer money. Governments have an obligation to proactively disclose information about how they are conducting the public’s business, and it is through proactive disclosure that voters are able to hold public officials accountable.

Key Points

  • Government transparency isn’t as “hot” of a topic as health care, for instance, but almost every political and governance problem can be traced back to a lack of transparency.
  • Proactive disclosure occurs when the government releases information and raw data on its own, rather than responding to requests for information.
  • Citizens should not need to be reporters or pay exorbitant fees to access public records – the information belongs to us.
  • At the federal level, the Obama administration has ordered some federal databases be shut down, thereby decreasing government transparency and access to information for reporters and citizens.
  • Currently, at all levels of government there is a reluctance to behave proactively to share information with the public.
  • There is no way to fully hold public officials accountable if voters do not possess accurate information about government actions.
  • If you want the government to change, you must engage on transparency issues.

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