Congress edges toward greater transparency

Congress is taking a much-needed step toward greater transparency for U.S. citizens.

The bipartisan Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress unanimously approved legislation to allow taxpayers to have greater public access to congressional information.

The five reforms would:

  • Standardize the format of legislative text, making easier for the public to access and understand legislation;
  • Create a central home to track committee votes;
  • Update both the House and Senate lobbying disclosure systems;
  • Make it easier to track amendments to legislation, and
  • Create a database showing which agencies and programs are due for reauthorization.

This is a nice first step but let’s hope it doesn’t end there.  All these recommendations still need to become an official policy of the Congress.

Reps. Derek Kilmer (WA-6) and Tom Graves (GA-14) jointly issued a statement that read, “Transparency in Congress promote more accountability to our constituents, and that’s a good thing.  These bipartisan recommendations are just the first step making the legislative branch more effective and accessible for the American people.”

Here are some “next step” ideas:

1.  Provide financial data on authorizations and appropriations for all spending programs; Release the previous final spending number budgeted.

2.   Indicate with a simple check mark or link to department, agency, or program audit and publish all findings so the public can see how resources are being overseen;

3.  Make it as easy as possible for citizens to follow by using simple info graphics.  State legislative transparency sites have been leading the transparency movement, but many are very confusing, overwhelming, and are data dumps, which tell there state constituents little.

The long-term vision for real reform is complete financial transparency of government spending.  Gone are the days of insider backroom congressional deals and oblique spending bills.  Now, citizens who fund the government have the right to know where and how their money is being spent.  Technology has made real-time reporting of both what is spent and what we achieve with the spending available for the first time.

Let hope this modernization continues.

Dr. David Rehr is Professor and Director of the Center for Business Civic Engagement at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and a leading expert on bringing financial transparency to government.