Is Government Transparency Dead?

Two recent reports question government transparency. It appears the federal government and Florida legislature do not want the people to know how they spend taxpayer dollars. Waste, fraud and abuse are common in governments at every level.

Transparency is key too discovering where the government is wasting money, fraudulently hiding information and abusing taxpayers. The less transparency the more fraud, waste and abuse. President Obama ran on a platform of transparency as did Governor Rick Scott.

Want to find corruption? Then follow the money.

According to Knowledge@Wharton:

While all eyes are turned to the U.S. government’s enormous debt, few have given equal attention to the massive costs and risks embedded in another of the government’s financial functions: its role as lender rather than borrower. One group that has been analyzing the federal government is the the Financial Economists Roundtable (FER), a group of prominent academics that since 1993 has produced an annual statement based on financial analysis of a critical policy issue. In October, the FER published its 2012 statement, Accounting for the Cost of Government Credit Assistance. The FER is administered by the Wharton Financial Institutions Center.

According to FER:

Flaws in the way the government accounts for its loans and credit guarantees understate the costs that taxpayers are bearing with student loans and other credit programs totaling more than $2.5 trillion, plus more than $5 trillion in mortgages backed by the federally owned companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In fact, a proper accounting — like that required of most businesses — would make the government’s budget deficit even larger than the officially reported amount.

“The federal government is the world’s largest financial institution, but policymakers and [government] managers are handicapped by an accounting system that is seriously deficient.  The accounting standards that the government sets for private financial institutions require far greater transparency than the rules that it imposes on itself,” says Deborah J. Lucas, finance professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and author of the FER statement.

Student loans and mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration, among more than 100 other lending programs, contain potential losses that are much more costly than what current accounting suggests, according to the FER.

The Florida legislature created the website. The Florida Legislature created, and made it available to the public in January 2010. Its purpose is “to provide the public with unprecedented access to state government spending information by posting Florida’s operating budget and associated expenditure records online.”

The First Amendment Foundation (FAF), an organization that has been protecting and advancing open government in Florida for over 25 years, and Integrity Florida (IF), a nonpartisan research institute and government watchdog group released a report “Budget Transparency in the Sunshine State December 2012“.

According to FAF and IF, “Corruption does not like sunlight and disclosure is the key to accountability.”

FAF and IF assessed the Transparency 2.0 website developed by Spider Data Services and conclude that Florida would save millions of dollars and would receive an A grade for public access to government spending on future report cards if the site is allowed to publicly launch with a multi-year commitment from the State to invest in site maintenance and real-time data.

Version 2.0 of the website is at risk.

Version 2.0, “[W]ould allow Florida Governor Rick Scott to achieve his goal of Accountability Budgeting. By making each state agency set annual goals for every dollar they spend, those goals could be captured in the Planning module of the Transparency 2.0 site. Performance of state agencies would be easily measured against those goals and the public and policymakers could hold agencies accountable for their outcomes. Transparency 2.0 would allow all state officials and employees to justify the expenditure of Floridians’ tax dollars.”

FAF and IF strongly recommend that the Transparency 2.0 website be allowed to launch publicly to provide a globally competitive level of budget transparency and public access to information.

Without these watchdog groups government transparency would be dead. Only via transparency can government be held accountable and the people demand fraud, waste and abuse be stopped.