on Transparency

“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of  their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.” Declaration of Independence, signed July 4th, 1776

When we elect people to office to make decisions on our behalf, we expect that what they do be open and transparent. In fact, President Obama ran on a platform that his government would be more open and transparent than any other in history. Unfortunately, the last 3 years has given us a parade of the exact opposite in every government department. From the ATF’s stonewalling of information regarding Operation Fast and Furious that led to the death of a border patrol agent, to the Department of Homeland Security’s refusal to provide data regarding the testing and maintenance on the safety of the backscatter machines, to the White House staff meeting in coffee shops with lobbyists in order to avoid the White House log in requirement, to withholding information from a congressional subpoena regarding the pro-union bias of the NLRB, and to the FDA’s and CDC’s caginess regarding information surrounding the 26 reported deaths in reaction to the Gardarsil HPV vaccine. The Obama administration’s denials of Freedom of Information requests have increased over 50% from his predecessor. In fact, his administration has responded to over 12,000 less FOIA requests than the previous year, despite the fact that the amount of requests have increased during his tenure. And, the budget for the Information Security Office has increased 15% over last year, as his office has used the executive secrecy privilege more often to quash legal inquiry than his predecessor. His administration has also punished internal whistleblowers, either economically or criminally. And, when the administration held a workshop on how to increase transparency in 2009, they closed it to reporters, not sharing any information about it until a FOIA request was filed to force them to do so. The fact that the Obama administration refused to be transparent regarding a workshop on transparency is beyond ironic – it reflects an administration that is arrogant, elitist, hypocritical and… scary.

Truth should fear no inquiry. When someone refuses to share information that I have right to have, or puts up barriers that makes it wearisome or costly to me in the asking, it merely increases my belief that they have something to hide. It also generates distrust, especially when it comes from those who have been elected to work for me.  No elected or bureaucratic office – local, state, or federal – should be treated as a personal fiefdom, devoid of accountability, above transparency, or forgetful of whom they are supposed to serve. Of course there are laws out there that facilitate transparency, such as the Open Meetings Law or the Freedom of Information Act; however, these were intended to be minimum thresholds only, and can usually only be enforced via a costly lawsuit. Do you really think that it is ok that our officials only shoot for the lowest common denominator here?  Why are we not setting and expecting a higher standard? However, once we start legislating transparency, it merely proves that we have bigger problems. Limiting the American citizen’s right to information to only the levels the government designates gives the impression that we don’t have a right to the information in the first place, and that officials have a right to hide all else from our view. Is that the type of government we want, one which tries to figure out ways to keep information from its employer, the taxpayers? Or better, do we really want people who think this way to be working for us?

Transparency increases trust; lack of it violates that trust. And, once violated, trust must be earned back – it cannot be demanded, legislated or forced. Transparency is what builds relationships; hiding things only succeeds in destroying them.  There should be no fear in transparency – if there is, one must then ask what is motivating the desire for secrecy. Will hiding things ever really reduce this fear, or merely just pull the darkness closer?  Light will eventually pierce the darkness, and the truth will always be found out in the end. The question is, how many relationships or lives will be destroyed in the process?

As I prepare to celebrate Christmas, I am reminded of the One who provides the ultimate standard of transparency – Jesus, our God who became flesh so that He could reveal Himself and His Truth to us.  He was open, honest, and modeled what it meant to truly serve. Although this may be a high bar to set for us mere humans, are we not called to at least try?

Merry Christmas to all!

“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” Mother Teresa (1910-1997), founder of the Missionaries of Charity

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