Being a Good Citizen Just Got Easier

We have a new ally in the drive for more transparent government: technology.

Those who have been toiling in public policy for years know the problem: Federal and state governments often require important information to be made public, but almost no one had easy access to that information.

If you knew where to find it, if you had the time to find it, and if you could travel to where the information was located, you could make use of it. But very few people did. Information was available but, practically speaking, inaccessible.

The Internet has changed all of that. Much of the information is now posted on the Web, allowing almost anyone to be a public watchdog. And with the ease of publishing your findings and comments, especially in blogs, virtually anyone can be an investigative reporter.

The Internet, in other words, has made being a good citizen much easier—and more effective. And the progress just keeps on coming.

New legislation that just passed Congress will require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to create a database that allows the public to track a trillion dollars in grants, contracts, earmarks, projects and loans.

Senator Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.), who has become the champion of transparency and good government, sponsored this effort. Senator Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) is the other lead sponsor.

It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of this type of legislation. Members of Congress approve lots of spending projects. Many of those projects are beneficial and completely defensible; others are shameless efforts to funnel federal money to some constituent’s pet project and have little or no relation to the national interest.

Making the information available and easily accessible on the Internet will force members to think twice about introducing pork barrel projects.

And it will remove one of the public’s excuses for not being involved in the political process. When that information is available, being a good citizen who holds elected representatives accountable isn’t just possible, it’s an obligation.