It’s a bit surprising to me, but maybe it shouldn’t be, that there aren’t more rules around openness and transparency in the U.S. Government. Again, I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. In Canada, and specifically, Ontario there are a ton of rules around accountability and transparency. Meaning, the Government needs to be open with its citizens about its plans. Which includes information such as budgets, policies around accountability and transparency for elected officials and high profile decisions. So maybe it’s just that I live in a world where this is already a reality. But it feels like second nature at this point. Something that many of us expect from our governments.
That being said, Steve Ballmer (formerly of Microsoft) has built a database to showcase government spending. What’s neat about this database, is that it “is an open, searchable database that tracks where almost all of your federal, state and local tax dollars are spent”, according to Engadget. Which leaves the Canadian model in the dust, in my opinion. Or at least in terms of its location. One searchable database, in my opinion is key here. Not necessarily having to go to different website locations just to find the information you’re looking for.
Ballmer’s idea isn’t necessarily moving towards the idea of “open government” like we see in Canada, but rather, bringing a business-like approach to the public sector. Which is an extremely conservative way of thinking. The idea being smaller government, and more public-private partnerships. Allowing agencies to provide services to the public as a third party to the government, rather than the government themselves. But is this actually a good idea? Will this achieve what Ballmer thinks it will?
My guess is that it will start out that way, but once people start to see what is being spent, the tables are going to turn. Governments are always being scrutinized for their spending, and rightfully so. But instead of coming at the government with burning torches, we need to understand what drives these decisions. And that answer is – policies. I have worked for several local governments over the last 10 plus years. And I’ve seen it all. From no spending at all, to all kinds of spending in certain areas. But nothing is really that consistent. In some cases policies aren’t in place that limits spending. And maybe the Canadian system needs a Ballmer like database to change the policies.
But I’m getting off topic a bit. I wonder if you can take a business like approach to government? Again, this is a conservative approach to governing. Which means we are going to neglect the “social” services in order to run the government like a corporation. And I’m not sure that’s effective. Is it possible to have third party organizations deliver these services on behalf of the government? Perhaps, but we are still looking at it from a tax perspective. Meaning, regardless of how you get the service, you still have to pay for it. Whether it’s through your taxes, or you’re paying for the service, you’re paying. Now some people say – if I don’t need disability support, I shouldn’t have to pay for that through my taxes. I only want to pay for roads and infrastructure improvement. But I don’t think we can look at it that way. Or at least that’s just my opinion.
Getting back to this database. I agree with knowing what the government is spending money on, but what can citizens do to change that spending? I’m not saying nothing, but are there enough grass root organizations that can help impart that change? Or is this just a way of adding fuel to the fire? We already see how much money Donald Trump is spending to get to spend his weekends golfing. But what can we, as citizens, do about that? What will be the method that will ultimately change the system? Having access to information is amazing, but there needs to be a next step in this process.