Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! CounterPunch is entirely supported by our readers. Your donations pay for our small staff, tiny office, writers, designers, techies, bandwidth and servers. We don’t owe anything to advertisers, foundations, one-percenters or political parties. You are our only safety net. Please make a tax-deductible donation today.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

What Do They Have to Hide?

by RALPH NADER

 

Several weeks ago, I joined with Grover Norquist, President, Americans for Tax Reform in urging state governors to emulate and go beyond the advances in bringing more openness to governmental expenditures put forth by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

Early in 2005, Governor Daniels issued an executive order which enables Hoosiers to find on the Internet the total number of state contracts entered into each year, the total amount of dollars awarded under state contracts each year, and the number and percentage of Indiana businesses and out-of-state businesses to whom state contracts are awarded each year. In addition the entire text of most contracts covered by the executive order is available online.

Mr. Norquist and I disagree on many other issues, but we strongly share the belief that taxpayers should be able to easily access clear and concise information on how their tax dollars are being spent by governments at all levels.

At the federal level, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act will create a free, publicly searchable website for all federal contracts and grants. Senator Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) and Senator Barack Obama (D. IL) introduced this bill requiring the dollar amounts and recipients of all grants and earmarked contracts be placed in a publicly accessible database.

This important step toward transparency was signed into law by President Bush on September 26, 2006, the law states that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has to ensure the existence of a searchable website is available no later than January 1, 2008. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle came together and joined forces to move in the right direction. But this is only a first step, since the actual contract language will not be made available.

When he was Director of the OMB in the federal government, Mitch Daniels expressed his support for putting all federal contracts and grants online above a minimum amount and invited public comment. Included in his proposal were defense contracts, prudently redacted, which, of course, means a large area of governmental spending historically off limits to public scrutiny.

Recently Iowa’s Republican Senator Chuck Grassley enthusiastically supported the idea of amending the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, to include the full text of contracts. Senator Grassley, a champion of the taxpayer and government whistleblowers knows that greater transparency will benefit taxpayers.

There is momentum to require the full text of government contracts be put online. But, don’t underestimate the power of lethargy. I first wrote to President Bill Clinton and asked him to issue an Executive Order setting procedures for every agency of the federal government to place its contracts online back in January of 2000. On February 8, 2000, President Clinton wrote back saying he had forwarded this request to the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review. On September 10, 2001, I wrote to Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr., then the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, urging him to give taxpayers access to the full text of government contracts. On June 6, 2003, as a result of Mr. Daniels drive on this issue, a Federal Register Notice was issued asking for public comments on a pilot project to put contracts online. His successors at the OMB have not followed up.

We are moving in the right direction with the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, but as we all know the “devil is in the details.” Requiring federal agencies and departments to post online the full text of all federal contracts would be a wonderful next step. The computer age should make it possible to efficiently allow for certain redactions related to legitimate concerns about business confidentiality and national security in contracts before they are posted online in a publicly-available database.

A large coalition from across the political spectrum has been pushing for increased transparency in government, which is good for a more competitive procurement process, the taxpayer and our democracy.

Contracting out what the state and federal government do and contracting to obtain what governments need is a large part of our economy. The former includes letting corporations perform government functions and the latter includes buying supplies like fuel, paper, food, medicines and vehicles. Taken together, they amount to spending trillions of dollars over the past decade – our tax dollars.

Putting the full text of these contracts online will: could give taxpayers both savings and better value; let the media focus more incisively on this vast area of government disbursements to inform the wider public; encourage constructive comments and alarms from the citizenry; and stimulate legal and economic research by scholars interested in structural topics related to government procurement, transfers, subsidies and giveaways.

Congress should amend the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act.

And, Governors should work expeditiously to make the full text of all state contracts, ranging from procurement of goods and services to grants, leaseholds and labor contracts, available to the public on the Internet in a clear and searchable format.

Transparency is one of the core principles of representative democracy. Another way of putting it is that “information is the currency of democracy.”

RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions

 

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 29, 2016
Robert Fisk
The Butcher of Qana: Shimon Peres Was No Peacemaker
James Rose
Politics in the Echo Chamber: How Trump Becomes President
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Vice Grip on the Presidential Debates
Daniel Kato
Rethinking the Race over Race: What Clinton Should do Now About ‘Super-Predators’
Peter Certo
Clinton’s Awkward Stumbles on Trade
Fran Shor
Demonizing the Green Party Vote
Rev. William Alberts
Trump’s Road Rage to the White House
Luke O'Brien
Because We Couldn’t Have Sanders, You’ll Get Trump
Michael J. Sainato
How the Payday Loan Industry is Obstructing Reform
Robert Fantina
You Can’t Have War Without Racism
Gregory Barrett
Bad Theater at the United Nations (Starring Kerry, Power, and Obama
James A Haught
The Long, Long Journey to Female Equality
Thomas Knapp
US Military Aid: Thai-ed to Torture
Jack Smith
Must They be Enemies? Russia, Putin and the US
Gilbert Mercier
Clinton vs Trump: Lesser of Two Evils or the Devil You Know
Tom H. Hastings
Manifesting the Worst Old Norms
George Ella Lyon
This Just in From Rancho Politico
September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
Gareth Porter
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]