FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Open the Government

It is dull but so very important.

It is sub-visible but in your pocket and on your back.

I speak of the hundreds of billions each year of federal government contracts, grants, leaseholds and licenses given to corporations to run our government, exploit our taxpayer assets and lay waste to efficient, responsive public services.

Before he left Washington in 2003 to run for Governor of Indiana, the hyper-conservative Director of Bush’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mitch Daniels, endorsed the policy of having all federal departments and agencies place the full text of their contracts, leases of natural resources and other agreements on the Internet.

He placed a notice in the Federal Register inviting comments. Obviously, the large corporate contractors and lessees of minerals and other public resources did not like the idea. After all, information is the currency of democracy. Big businesses, like Dick Cheney’s Halliburton, love oligarchies and corporate socialism featuring subsidies, handouts, bailouts and contracted out governmental functions.

Big Bureaucracies in Washington, D.C. were not exactly enthusiastic about applying Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ comment that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Unfortunately, Daniels’ successor at OMB, Bush loyalist and now his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, was totally cold to the proposal. Activity grinded to a halt.

There is new activity on other fronts, however. Congress, in 2006, passed legislation to shed light on the contracting process. Starting in January of 2008, the government website: http://www.usaspending.gov/ started providing the public with the following information:

1. the name of the entity receiving the award;

2. the amount of the award;

3. information on the award including transaction type, funding agency, etc;

4. the location of the entity receiving the award; and

5. a unique identifier of the entity receiving the award.

But the essential requirement-placing the entire text of these contracts on the web is the unfinished business of Congress which some Democrats and Republicans are turning their attention to in the coming months. In a meeting, Senator Chuck Grassley (Rep. Iowa) declared his support. Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, has also assented. Others from both Parties are on board.

The next step will either be placing the requisite amendment in must-pass legislation or having public hearings to show the American people the advantages as a taxpayer and citizen of expanding their “right to know.”

Consider the groups who will benefit from such open government:

1. Small business competitors who are often aced out of no-bid contracts and over-ridden by major prime contractors’ influence on federal agencies. The quality of competitive bidding and performance should go up.

2. Taxpayers and taxpayer groups have opportunities to review, challenge or oppose where their money is going.

3. The media will be able to report to the public about the doings of contracting and leasing and licensing government in faster and much greater detail.

4. Scholars and students at universities, business schools and law schools will be able to provide analyses, improvements on both the substantive content and proper procedures for making these agreements. Sweetheart giveaways, for example, of minerals on public land and easy avoidance of responsibilities should be reduced. Archives of these contracts will be created for historical reference.

5. Local and state governments and legislatures will find themselves equipped to participate where their interests are at stake and may be encouraged to emulate such openness with their own texts of contracts, leases and so forth.

Already, some states like Texas and Indiana are placing notices of state contracts on their websites.

Last week, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, took the initiative by placing on his department’s website. “Track Your Taxes,” details on his office’s spending, “including every single contract that our department has entered into, including legal services, such as Special Assistant Attorneys General, and expert witnesses.” Mr. Cox added that all vendor contracts, “the type of service being provided, the term of the contract, the amount of the contract, how much has been spent, and how much is left,” will be online.

Good step forward. But much more at all levels of government is needed, including the full texts and any performance information about delays, incomplete or incompetent work and other qualitative information such as cost over-runs. You may wish to contact your legislators and solicit their support.

Is it “mission accomplished” when all such outsourcing information is online for everyone to see? Of course not. Information has to be used. This requires that new habits be established.

Reporters, scholars, taxpayer groups and other are not used to this “beat.” They have to expand their time and resources to get on it. Otherwise, the bureaucrats and the business lobbies will continue with business as usual.

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
T.J. Coles
The Battle for Latin America: How the U.S. Helped Destroy the “Pink Tide”
Ron Jacobs
Ho Chi Minh City: Nguyen Thai Binh Street
Dean Baker
Fun Fictions in Economics
David Rosen
Trump’s One-Dimensional Gender Identity
Kenn Orphan
Notre Dame: We Have Always Belonged to Her
Robert Hunziker
The Blue Ocean Event and Collapsing Ecosystems
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Paddy Wagon
Brett Wilkins
Jimmy Carter: US ‘Most Warlike Nation in History of the World’
John W. Whitehead
From Jesus Christ to Julian Assange: When Dissidents Become Enemies of the State
Nick Pemberton
To Never Forget or Never Remember
Stephen Cooper
My Unforgettable College Stabbings
Louis Proyect
A Leftist Rejoinder to the “Capitalist Miracle”
Louisa Willcox
Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic and the Need for a New Approach to Managing Wildlife
Brian Cloughley
Britain Shakes a Futile Fist and Germany Behaves Sensibly
Jessicah Pierre
A Revolutionary Idea to Close the Racial Wealth Divide
George Burchett
Revolutionary Journalism
Dan Bacher
U.S. Senate Confirms Oil Lobbyist David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary
Nicky Reid
The Strange Success of Russiagate
Chris Gilbert
Defending Venezuela: Two Approaches
Todd Larsen
The Planetary Cost of Amazon’s Convenience
Kelly Martin
How the White House is Spinning Earth Day
Nino Pagliccia
Cuba and Venezuela: Killing Two Birds With a Stone
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Guadalcanal and Bloody Ridge, Solomon Islands
David Kattenburg
Trudeau’s Long Winter
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
Ellen Lindeen
What Does it Mean to Teach Peace?
Adewale Maye and Eileen Appelbaum
Paid Family and Medical Leave: a Bargain Even Low-Wage Workers Can Afford
Ramzy Baroud
War Versus Peace: Israel Has Decided and So Should We
Ann Garrison
Vets for Peace to Barbara Lee: Support Manning and Assange
Thomas Knapp
The Mueller Report Changed my Mind on Term Limits
Jill Richardson
Why is Going Green So Hard? Because the System Isn’t
Mallika Khanna
The Greenwashing of Earth Day
Arshad Khan
Do the Harmless Pangolins Have to Become Extinct?
Paul Armentano
Pushing Marijuana Legalization Across the Finish Line
B. R. Gowani
Surreal Realities: Pelosi, Maneka Gandhi, Pompeo, Trump
Paul Buhle
Using the Law to Build a Socialist Society
David Yearsley
Call Saul
Elliot Sperber
Ecology Over Economy 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail