One of Barack Obama’s pledges was that he would open up the federal government for the public. As a bona fide policy geek, I can’t tell you how excited I am at the thought of getting to read federal register notices, draft regulations, and submissions on the policy and regulatory impact of proposed laws or statutes.

Now, I realize that many of you may have stopped reading after that last sentence, or are at least frightened at this point. However, what I find truly frightening is how the Bush Administration restricted public access to documents over the past eight years. A bipartisan group wants the Obama administration to reverse the Bush administration’s policy on public access to government records.

The combination of increased security following September 11th and Bush Administration directives was a sharp drop in the access that the public, nonprofits, and others had to regulatory issues, administrative meetings, and more. While it wasn’t exactly a Star Chamber, the Bush administration sought to retain rather than release information whenever possible.

While I will wager that not everyone will be sitting up nights waiting to learn when they can submit public commentary about a regulation; the principle of open government is fundamental to an active, participatory democracy.  Information is important and good policy-making involves gathering disparate and sometimes conflicting information and sifting through it to arrive at a policy position.

It involves broad consultations with experts and non-experts alike. Many community organizers are experts in how new rules might impact the citizens in their area. Many NGOs have issue and policy expertise to offer that can guide the development and application of regulations as well as raise issues that may not have been considered by those developing the policies. And many citizens without expertise may be affected and may care deeply about the outcome and should have the ability to express their ideas to those whom they have elected.

President-elect Obama and Vice-President Biden have a site, www.change.gov, where people can share their stories from the election, comment on ideas, view information about the transition and more. It is a good first step in realizing President-elect Obama’s goal of a government that is open and accountable. Just as this election signals a change and commitment to re-engaging the world; President-elect Obama’s change.gov website and other overtures signal a commitment to transparency and an invitation to continue to participate and engage in and with our government so that it truly is in the words of Abraham Lincoln “a government of the people, by the people and for the people”

Advertisements