Monday, December 08, 2008


I read an article that pointed me to this story: Report Links State Gun Laws To Rates of Slayings, Trafficking:
The study is the first of its kind and comes after the mayors and 30 law enforcement organizations successfully lobbied Congress last year to release portions of the ATF data. Public access to the reports had been restricted since the 2003 passage of the 'Tiahrt amendment,' authored by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) and drafted with help from the National Rifle Association. Tiahrt said at the time that he was 'fulfilling the needs of my friends who are firearms dealers.'
I don't know if the study is accurate, nor if the inference (that more stringent gun sales laws could decrease gun violence) is useful. But the existence of the data and people's inability to get to it is what stuck out.

This triggered a thought I've had bouncing around transparency (I've blogged about it a couple of times).

I figure that the government should be transparent to a fault. I think we should have all government spending records made available on-line (in hypertext and spreadsheet form, searchable PDF at the absolute minimum). It's our money, we have a right to know where the $700B bailout (or $1T or $2T, depending on what you're including) has gone! Earmarks in congress can stay, we just need to see what they're for and who added them. Only then will we have accountability.

Certainly, all contractors who are hired by the government should have their pay listed - as well as the contract signed (so we know what was gotten for the money spent), and who else bidded for the job. We have no idea if the contractors hired are doing their job, and we're hiring them to do more and more work.

Transparency should apply to non-budget areas as well, the information used in the above study about guns sales and crime is useful. Many have have talked about having the FDA require all studies done by pharmaceutical companies be published when a drug is approved - both good and bad (right now the company can (does)">cherry-pick which are released). Information about police activity (number of tickets/arrests), TSA activities, number of street cleaners, births, deaths, number of buildings owned, whatever - it should all be available.

With Bush especially, we have less and less of an idea of what the government is doing. And as we know less, the government has free reign to do whatever it wants.

Transparency should apply to what we get from contracts as well. If we get a software service (say, billing, or library catalogs, or planning), the government agency should be guaranteed access to the data in a well known format (XML, csv, text, HTML, whatever) at all times. This access provides incentive for the company to stay current and not get complacent because they have "locked in" a government contract by using a proprietary format. Additionally, if the company goes belly-up, the government should have a right to a copy of all the application source code (free of licensing). It is just ridiculous to imagine that a company going out of business should lock up part of the government. You do business with the government, the government gets a copy of your code should you disappear.

[12/09/2008 Edited to add this:]
The EFF has a transparency agenda for the new administration that is short and worth the read.

1 comment:

czrpb said...

I recommend SF author David Brin on this topic:

i have not read/heard his thoughts on this topic but i recommend him on the basis of other stuff i have read PLUS just generally being a SF author! grin!