Sunshine Week was March 16-22. It has come and gone. Kathi Bearden, Board President, New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, wrote," Sunshine Week focuses on the importance of open government. No open government, no Democracy. No transparency, no government accountability."
Much of the focus for the week centers on open meetings, lobbyist disclosure, special interest spending, public salaries and payments to government employees.
This year's week also included a presentation entitled "Threats to Transparency: Problems with Money in Politics," hosted by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Now, I am a huge proponent of transparency and accountability. But I think the organizers and funders of Sunshine Week are missing the biggest issue facing citizens with respect to transparency: where government funds are spent and what results are being achieved.
This may be due to the historic lack of tools that allow for clarity in understanding where tax dollars are being spent and the fact that there has been no real-time tool to measure results for that investment. Allowing citizens to peak inside millions of transactions inside the "government checkbook" or view thousands of state's contracts was a difficult endeavor. For those government officials who provided transparent "top line" budget numbers, citizens were unable to 'drill down' a $300 million budget, for example, and see specific spending items and expenses.
But the tools to provide solutions to those issues and provide elected leaders (and their citizens) a host of other ways to see spending patterns, comparisons and even specific transactions new exists. And they should be leveraged to ensure Americans could see where their tax dollars are being spent and what results are being achieved.
Sunshine Week has historically been supported and promoted by America's news media. As former CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), I know how much the media loves to focus on stories about money and politics, the personal lives of elected officials and lobbying at all levels of government by interest groups. The media looks to determine which political party is doing better or worse by 'spinning' the aspirations of voters. Unfortunately, only a handful of media personalities take very seriously their role to report or conduct a serious discussion about the assumptions, strategy, implementation and likely effectiveness of proposed and current government programs.
But, frankly, the news media should pay more attention to government initiatives and the return on investment of tax dollars.
Every day money being spent on one government program means that another initiative is not being funded or money is not being returned to those who pay taxes. Highlighting during Sunshine Week the need for more objective data to ensure this "opportunity cost" or trade-off is the correct one and getting the results everyone desires would be of great benefit and great interest to news viewers and listeners.
I applaud the organizers of Sunshine Week for their efforts. We must have openness in America to have a free society. But I hope the 2015 Sunshine Week will increase the focus and attention to government fiscal transparency. The week should celebrate and showcase ideas and technologies to bring real-time transparency of budgets and spending to the public. This will hasten the inevitability of budget knowledge and government program results to citizens and encourage reluctant politicians to fully embrace transparency. This new level of sunshine will also, no doubt, create better results for our government programs and initiatives.