In reading President Obama’s January 21st “Memorandum For The Heads Of Executive Departments And Agencies” that launched this Transparency and Open Government initiative, you will notice that the whole focus is on the Executive Branch of the Federal Government. This makes sense since the Constitution only gives the President formal management authority over this branch of the government. He can only influence the other branches through such means as court nominations, proposed legislative agendas and legislation, advocacy, and more informal interactions and relationships.
Obviously, it’s far easier to move ahead with an initiative over which the President has ultimate authority and can therefore assume the leadership role, which is a critical factor in the success of any large scale change. But to reach the goal of creating a transparent, open Federal Government, the Executive Branch can’t do it alone. The role of the Legislative Branch – Congress, in enacting the legislation that the Executive Branch implements and manages, gives it an equally important stake in creating transparency, collaboration, and participation across the Federal Government.
Recognizing this, a number of the ideas posted to this forum are aimed at Congress. A prime example is the idea with by far the most votes at this time, “Support a 72-Hour Mandatory Public Review Period on Major Spending Bills.” You can’t realistically plan to implement this idea without the full participation and backing of Congress, since they are the ones most impacted by it. Why would Congress support this idea if they weren’t active participants in the design, implementation, and management of this new process?
Besides this, Congress is the only branch of the Federal Government that provides ongoing, bi-partisan participation and representation in the government’s activities. The Administration is naturally dominated by the party elected into the White House. Regardless of how impartial any President or Administration may try to be, they are human and subject to bias, just like the rest of us. So, in addition to inviting the participation of all Americans in this initiative through means such as this Open Government Dialogue, inviting Congress to participate would aid in designing and implementing a bi-partisan system that could be sustained across all the political changes the government undergoes every election. Otherwise, everything this initiative implements could be thrown out with the next change of Administration.
Therefore, Congress should be invited to partner with the Administration in moving forward with all phases of this initiative!
Note: The Supreme Court and the rest of the Federal Judicial System are, by definition and design, supposed to be removed from the partisan political process of governance and therefore tend to be less transparent and open than the other branches of government. There may be some opportunities for more transparency and openness in the judicial system. But these should probably be left for a later time, since the benefits of including them at this time would probably be outweighed by the increased complexity and scale involved in including them now.