Last week was Sunshine Week, where the openness or lack of it when it comes to government is highlighted. At the federal level with all the hype of transparency it seems there is a great deal of secrecy.
- U.S. senators do not file campaign contributions electronically, because they are not required to. Their reports are printed and mailed to the Secretary of the Senate where they are scanned into nonsearchable images and e-mailed to the Federal Elections Commission. The FEC posts the images on its site and snail-mails the data to a government contractor, which manually inputs the data into a searchable database -– all of which results in unnecessary costs and delays for public review. Proposals to change the antiquated process to comport with House electronic-reporting mandates have failed.
- Voting records are not recorded during congressional “voice votes.”
- Lawmakers are not required to reveal their affiliations with charities and nonprofits, which may receive unlimited funding from corporations.
- There is no standard, one-stop shopping source to obtain information about congressional committee hearing times, agendas, votes, member changes, transcripts and so forth.
- The URLs for committee websites are sometimes altered without notice when the ruling party changes, leaving a trail of broken links around the web.
- Lawmakers do not have to disclose when they’ve met with lobbyists.
- There is a three-to-four-month lag time in publicizing the White House visitor log, and the rules for disclosing the logs are riddled with exceptions.
But that’s not all. Seems there are tremendous shortfalls when it comes to complying with the Freedom of Information Act.
- When the government does comply, the records produced generally are nonsearchable image files, or they are printed documents, making them difficult to sift through and analyze.
- Neither Congress nor the courts are covered by FOIA, nor the president and immediate staff. FOIA basically only covers the executive-branch agencies, and the law does not cover documents surrounding the so-called “deliberative process.”
- FOIA requests often take years to process despite a 20-day rule. Many agencies have not updated their FOIA protocols despite a White House order that they do so.
With all the lack of transparency is it really hard to believe why people don’t trust the government. The perfect example of opaqueness was seen during the debate on ObamaCare.
- POGO at Sunshine Week Hearing: Bring FOIA Out of the Dark Ages (pogoblog.typepad.com)
- It’s Sunshine Week, But Obama’s Transparency Record is Cloudy (wired.com)
- Storm clouds are gathering over Sunshine Week (thehill.com)