November 12, 2008 | By Tim Jones

A Transparency Agenda for the New Administration

This is the final post in a three-part series outlining how the new leadership in Congress and the White House can restore some of the civil liberties we've lost over the past eight years. Today's post focuses on government transparency. Previously, we've written about surveillance and intellectual property.

The past eight years have seen an increase in government secrecy and a decrease in government accountability. These factors have led to record levels of distrust in our government. Here are three steps the new leadership should take to begin to restore that trust:

  1. Leverage new technology to provide authoritative government data. It's notoriously difficult or impossible to find and manage data on legislation (both passed and proposed), on election day polling locations, on the boundaries of Congressional districts, and on government spending. All of these should be made available online for the federal and state levels, in open formats, with no intellectual property restrictions on their use, distribution or ownership.

  2. Review the entire information-classification infrastructure and reform it to create meaningful oversight. This system has been repeatedly abused by the White House. It leaves far too much discretion in administration hands, allowing them to "capture" legislators who want to be "in the loop," forbidding them from conducting any serious investigation into the administration's illegal or questionable practices.

  3. Restore strength to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Encourage government agencies to produce documents, instead of withholding documents under overbroad pretenses. This will allow the government to assist in uncovering misconduct. A good start would be to re-introduce and pass the Faster FOIA Act.


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