Open Government in a Democracy
by Jordan Loar
Exercising a policy of open government is fundamental to a successful democratic government and its society. It is the antithesis of government officials planning and executing secret transactions behind locked doors in a smoke filled room. An open government supports the basic democratic principle that the government’s authority rests with the society it governs. Toward safeguarding that power, citizens must have open access to information relating to government activities.
Judge Damon Keith of the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals points out that, “Democracies die behind close doors.” The role of an open government in a democracy is to provide transparency, accountability, and openness. These principles are not simply hypothetical ideas. Each one can be functionally applied through suitable legislature, policies, and organizational frameworks at all levels of government.
Transparency means that dependable, pertinent, and timely information about government’s business is publicly available. To accomplish this, an open government’s role is to enact laws and policies that afford rights of access to information. It strives to grant a relatively easy path for citizens in obtaining information collected, distributed, and preserved by the government. Achieving this transparency is a complex process that often necessitates the careful balancing of opposing interests. An open government continually searches for the best way to allow judicious public admittance to information while at the same time protecting national security and individual privacy. Toward this end, government officials must actively apply government legislation like the Freedom of Information Act and its nine exemptions. Placing emphasis on the fullest responsibility of disclosure in concert with encompassing, balancing, and protecting all interests.
Accountability means that it is possible to identify and hold government officials responsible for their actions. This trait of an open government helps ensure that government officials do not operate behind closed curtains while managing the government as their own exclusive club. James Madison, “The Father of Our Constitution”, forewarned, “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or, perhaps both.” Without this check, government officials are more prone to make decisions contrary to the public interest, misuse their authority, and engage in fraudulent activities.
Openness means that government officials must pay attention to citizens’ proposals when devising and implementing public policies. Their responsibility regarding this is to establish government policies instructing how citizens should be consulted during policy making. Moreover, it is just as important to stipulate how policy makers are to account for public input when reaching decisions. Open forums and town hall meeting are two examples that lend themselves to citizens’ voices being heard and recognized.
The role of an accessible government is to promote democracy and good government. Essentially, it is the soul of democracy. Implementing transparency, accountability, and openness into the government’s administration secures the trust and confidence of the public towards the government that serves them. It ensures that its citizens’ rights are respected and protected while simultaneously reducing the potential for unwarranted secrecy and corruption.