The Importance of Government Transparency

“A government by the people for the people” is how President Lincoln described our democratic republic in his address at Gettysburg. It is a representative form of government where we the people have the honor and duty of picking who will serve for us in Congress. Our elections are set up so that we may keep our representatives accountable and in check. But if we don’t understand or know what they are doing in Washington D.C., then is it even possible for elections to serve their intended purpose? If all we know about the happens under the capitol dome is what our elected officials tell us, we lose the ability to research for ourselves in order to make good and informed decisions.

In 1788, while writing Federalist 51, James Madison penned: “A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” He knew that the success of our form of government depends on “the people” as a primary quality control. Thomas Jefferson is credited as saying, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” With that in mind, it is important for the happenings of Washington D.C. to be open and transparent to the scrutiny of the people in our nation and for all in our power to be done to improve and secure the ability of review.

Are you wondering what bills your Congressman has filed this year? Or maybe what they are working to pass into law? Perhaps you go to the congressional website in hopes of finding that information. Are you disappointed or frustrated by the maze-like feel and the struggle to find what you are looking for? And if you are successful in finding a bill authored by your congressman, are you surprised that even after reading it you aren’t sure what it would accomplish if passed into law? You are not alone.

Congress, and the actions they take, often seem far away and shrouded in mystery. It may feel that the elected officials themselves try to keep things vague and hard to understand. But one lawmaker, in the interest of transparency, has filed two bills hoping to make legislation filed by Congress more accessible and easier to understand. In early March 2018, Liberty for All-backed Senator Mike Lee introduced the Readable Legislation Act of 2018 and the Searchable Legislation Act of 2018.

As explained in a press release from Senator Mike Lee’s office: “The Readable Legislation Act requires every bill to show the changes the bill makes to the full text of existing sections of law the bill repeals or amends. Without context, provisions to strike text, repeal sections, or insert new language provide little meaningful information about what the bill does. Requiring that bills reproduce amended sections of law and show how the bill would change them—similar to the “track changes” feature in Microsoft Word—will allow members, staff, and constituents to better understand federal legislation.

The Searchable Legislation Act requires every bill, resolution, and document produced by Congress to be created, transmitted, and published in searchable electronic formats, consistent with recommendations from a congressional data task force the bill codifies. These new standards will open up the legislative process by increasing access to congressional documents.” 

It’s far past time for our federal government to start advancing into the 21st century and begin utilizing basic technology to open up the legislative process. These acts, if passed, would not only make it easier for Congressmen and their staff to analyze legislation but also help We the People more fully understand what changes are being proposed to our laws. Lee’s bills would greatly increase transparency and help citizens hold their representatives accountable while they are way off inside the beltway of Washington D.C.