Open Government Supporters Push Back in Washington Post Letters Against Pessimist Jason Grumet
dcogcadmin | October 7, 2014
Advocates told Washington Post readers in forceful terms this morning (October 7) that open government mandates work and should be expanded. Sunlight Foundation’s Bill Allison and Celia Viggo Wexler of Union of Concerned Scientists wrote in response to a gloomy Post commentary published October 2 by Jason Grumet of the Bipartisan Policy Center on “the dark side to sunlight.”
Grumet, whose job rests on hope for policy dialogue across political boundaries, argued that laws prohibiting closed meetings inhibit important conversations that can lead to mutual accommodations and common-ground policy. He also took a jab at “highly organized special interests and activists” for their use of open government laws to keep a close watch on government officials–“even text messages are targeted.” Grumet ended with suggestions for less sunshine, since increasing transparency in his view has been accompanied by declining confidence in government.
Both letter writers disputed the critique. Allison argued low confdence could reflect remaining transparency gaps, so if anything more openness is needed, especially in the legislative branch. Wexler challenged the alleged chilling effect of current law, since officials in both legislative and executive branches may hold needed discussions away from publicity. Open government requirements, argued Wexler, do allow the public to recognize shortcomings but that in turn elicits useful demands for improvement. “Contrary to what Mr. Grumet impled,” she concluded, “ignorance is not bliss.”
UPDATE: Gary Bass, Danielle Bryan and Norman Eisen penned a strong New Year’s op ed for the Washington Post also taking issue with Grumet’s pessimism (and related writings by several other pundits decrying legislative gridlock and blaming it on burdensome openness requirements said to drive out deal-making).
Vigorously rejecting the label “transparency absolutists,” the authors agreed that “not everything government and Congress do should occur in a fishbowl.” But they argued “there is already plenty of room today for private deliberations. The problem isn’t transparency. It is that the political landscape punishes those who try to work together. And if various accountability measures create procedural challenges, let’s fix them. When it comes to holding government accountable, it is in the nation’s best interest to allow the media, nonprofit groups and the public full access to decision-making.” The piece drew on a longer paper published by Brookings November 24, 2014, titled Why Crtics of Transparency Are Wrong.