FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Let the People Know

by RALPH NADER

Openness in our government is essential for a healthy democracy. When citizens and voters have access to information about the inner workings of their government and representatives, they can cast informed votes. However, when this information remains in the shadows, citizens are left without access to the information necessary for them to properly exercise their civic powers and responsibilities.

Certainly the regular disclosure of how our government spends our tax dollars is extremely important.

In 2006 and 2009, legislation was passed that advanced open government initiatives. With the creation of USASpending.gov in 2006, the public was given access to an online, searchable database that discloses federal financial awards and their recipients. In 2009, the Recovery Act included openness provisions that created a public website to track recovery spending and formed a board that would oversee the Recovery Act funds to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse. These were good first steps, but there is much that is left to be done.

Just last month, President Obama signed an Executive Order and a Policy Directive that would officially require data generated by the federal government to be made available to the public online. As with all open government initiatives, this is a welcome development. But again, President Obama and his colleagues in Congress can – and need to – do more.

Attempting to build on the foundation of the 2006 and 2009 transparency laws, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa and Democrat Senator Mark Warner have been working to advance the DATA Act in the House and Senate. The DATA Act passed the House in April 2012, but was not acted on in the Senate and died in committee in the 112th Congress. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs did, however, hold a hearing to discuss the bill, titled “Show Me the Money: Improving Transparency of Federal Spending.” During this hearing, despite bipartisan support in Congress, White House representatives from the Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department balked at the bill, giving insight to improvements that could be made. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, however, made it clear that a law is needed to specifically enumerate what information must be reported.

The DATA Act was reintroduced in the 113th Congress (H.R. 2061 and S. 994) at the end of May 2013 and unanimously passed the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It aims to improve the quality of publicly accessible government information, set uniform data standards, collect spending data, and examine the information to root out waste, fraud or abuse.

Neither the President’s Executive Order nor the DATA Act, however, has gone far enough. There remains one crucial provision that is notably absent from both proposals: making full contract texts available online. Unfortunately, when it comes to government spending and government contracts, the devil is in the details. Providing this degree of public access to reporters, scholars, taxpayer associations, and more competitive bidders would be an important step forward. It would help keep corruption in check, hold government accountable for its actions, propagate best practices in contracting, give rise to significant taxpayer savings, and encourage fiscal responsibility.

Each year hundreds of billions of dollars in federal government contracts, grants, leaseholds and licenses are awarded to corporations. Taxpayers should be able to easily access clear and concise information on how their tax dollars are being spent by the government at all levels. This is especially needed in an era of massive outsourcing to large private corporations.

States across the country have been implementing their own open government initiatives in the past several years. States leading the way by consistently moving toward making full contract texts of all direct government spending available online include Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and Texas. Requiring federal agencies and departments to post the full text of all federal contracts online would be the logical next step.

Concerns about confidentiality or cost of such an endeavor are vastly overblown. The computer age should make it possible to efficiently allow for certain redactions related to only legitimate concerns about genuine trade secrets and national security in contracts before they are posted online in a publicly-available database.

To repeat: Let the people know now. No more secret contracts and other deals.

Putting the full text of these contracts online could give taxpayers both savings and better value; lets the media focus more incisively on this vast area of government disbursements to inform the wider public; encourages constructive comments and alarms from the citizenry; and allows research by scholars specializing in the daily government procurement, transfers, subsidies, giveaways, and bailouts.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

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

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
February 11, 2016
Bruce Lesnick
Flint: A Tale of Two Cities
Ajamu Baraka
Beyonce and the Politics of Cultural Dominance
Shamus Cooke
Can the Establishment Fix Its Bernie Sanders Problem?
John Hazard
The Pope in Mexico: More Harm Than Good?
Joyce Nelson
Trudeau & the Saudi Arms Deal
Zarefah Baroud
The Ever-Dangerous Mantra “Drill, Baby Drill”
Anthony DiMaggio
Illinois’ Manufactured Budget Crisis
Colin Todhunter
Indian Food and Agriculture Under Attack
Binoy Kampmark
Warring Against Sanders: Totalitarian Thinking, Feminism and the Clintons
Robert Koehler
Presidential Politics and the American Soul
Thomas Knapp
Election 2016: The Banality of Evil on Steroids
Cesar Chelala
Is Microcephaly in Children Caused by the Zika Virus or by Pesticides?
February 10, 2016
Eoin Higgins
Clinton and the Democratic Establishment: the Ties That Bind
Fred Nagel
The Role of Legitimacy in Social Change
Jeffrey St. Clair
Why Bernie Still Won’t Win
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Aleppo Gamble Pays Off
Chris Martenson
The Return of Crisis: Everywhere Banks are in Deep Trouble
Ramzy Baroud
Next Onslaught in Gaza: Why the Status Quo Is a Precursor for War
Sheldon Richman
End, Don’t Extend, Draft Registration
Benjamin Willis
Obama in Havana
Jack Smith
Obama Intensifies Wars and Threats of War
Rob Hager
How Hillary Clinton Co-opted the Term “Progressive”
Mark Boothroyd
Syria: Peace Talks Collapse, Aleppo Encircled, Disaster Looms
Lawrence Ware
If You Hate Cam Newton, It’s Probably Because He’s Black
Jesse Jackson
Starving Government Creates Disasters Like Flint
Bill Laurance
A Last Chance for the World’s Forests?
Gary Corseri
ABC’s of the US Empire
Frances Madeson
The Pain of the Earth: an Interview With Duane “Chili” Yazzie
Binoy Kampmark
The New Hampshire Distortion: The Primaries Begin
Andrew Raposa
Portugal: Europe’s Weak Link?
Wahid Azal
Dugin’s Occult Fascism and the Hijacking of Left Anti-Imperialism and Muslim Anti-Salafism
February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Neve Gordon
Israeli Labor Party Adopts the Apartheid Mantra
Kristin Kolb
The “Great” Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail