FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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! 

September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
Jeff Ballinger
Nike and Colin Kaepernick: Fronting the Bigots’ Team
David Rosen
Why Stop at Roe? How “Settled Law” Can be Overturned
Gary Olson
Pope Francis and the Battle Over Cultural Terrain
Nick Pemberton
Donald The Victim: A Product of Post-9/11 America
Ramzy Baroud
The Veiled Danger of the ‘Dead’ Oslo Accords
Kevin Martin
U.S. Support for the Bombing of Yemen to Continue
Robert Fisk
A Murder in Aleppo
Robert Hunziker
The Elite World Order in Jitters
Ben Dangl
After 9/11: The Staggering Economic and Human Cost of the War on Terror
Charles Pierson
Invade The Hague! Bolton vs. the ICC
Robert Fantina
Trump and Palestine
Daniel Warner
Hubris on and Off the Court
John Kendall Hawkins
Boning Up on Eternal Recurrence, Kubrick-style: “2001,” Revisited
Haydar Khan
Set Theory of the Left
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail