Open Government

WPC's Center for Government Reform's mission is to partner with stakeholders and citizens to work toward a government focused on its core functions while improving its transparency, accountability, performance, and effectiveness for taxpayers.

What's New

Secretary Locke to business: Just write it off!

March 29, 2010 in Blog

During last week's fallout from the ObamaCare vote, several large companies expressed concern that the new system will eventually cost their businesses, employees and shareholders, millions of dollars over the next decade. 

AT&T announced that it will be forced to make a $1 billion writedown due solely to the health care bill. Deere & Co. announced cost increases of $150 million, Caterpiller, $100 million; AK Steel, $31 million. 3M, $90 million, et. al. As The Wall Street Journal points out, consulting firm Towers Watson estimates the cost this year at $14 billion, unless corporations cut retiree benefits. 

The response from Commerce Secretary Gary Locke? 

"...[Locke] took to the White House blog to write that while ObamaCare is great for business, 'In the last few days though, we have seen a couple of companies imply that reform will raise costs for them.' In a Thursday interview on CNBC, Mr. Locke said 'for them to come out, I think is premature and irresponsible.'"

In other words, businesses should just keep quiet about higher costs to come as a result of ObamaCare. This, despite the fact that corporations are required to immediately restate their earnings to reflect the present value of their long-term health liabilities, including a higher tax burden. 

Reminds me of this classic Seinfeld clip:

Health law’s heavy impact

March 28, 2010 in In the News
Spokesman Review
Spokesman Review
Sunday, March 28, 2010

Roll Call for March 28

March 28, 2010 in In the News
The Olympian
The Olympian
Sunday, March 28, 2010

WPC letter to Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown

March 25, 2010 in Blog

Earlier this week Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said I was wrong about the Legislature not being transparent this session. When pressed by reporters about various shady practices, she said that she wasn't aware of what they were talking about. To help provide Senator Brown with the details we sent her this letter today.

U.S. House members launch transparency caucus

March 25, 2010 in Blog

Rarely does a good idea come first from Washington D.C. versus the state laboratories of reform but here is one exception. Yesterday Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House formed a congressional transparency caucus to help promote open government initiatives.

According to Nextgov:

House Republicans and Democrats on Thursday launched a congressional transparency caucus that will call for new laws requiring federal information be accessible on the Internet for free and will teach other members about open government initiatives.

"On a bipartisan basis this caucus can bring about real changes to the way our government does business," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a co-chair of the new 19-member group and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"We need to work together if !
we're going to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and lawmakers are operating honestly and effectively," added the caucus' other co-chair, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.

The caucus will work to educate peers and the public, legislate new policies and oversee existing ones, in that order, according to the group's members . . .

Other members that have indicated interest in joining the caucus include: Melissa Bean, D-Ill.; Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah; Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas; Bill Foster, D-Ill.; Steve Israel, D-N.Y.; Walter B. Jones, R-N.C.; Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; Mark Steven Kirk, R-Ill.; Doug Lamborn, R-Colo.; Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo.; Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C.; Walt Minnick, D-Idaho; Jared Polis, D-Colo.; Tim Ryan, D-Ohio; Aaron Schock, R-Ill.; Mark Souder, R-Ind.; and Jackie Speier, D-Calif.

The caucus' guiding principles state,

1. "The American people have the right to public access to all of their!
government's information. All of the federal government&#!
39;s information, with a few well-defined exceptions, should be freely available online.

2. The American people have the right to analyze the government's information. The federal government's information should be published in its raw format, downloadable in bulk and machine readable. . . . The government should adopt consistent data standards so that different agencies' forms, filings and records can all be searched together. All documents should be published at permanent Web addresses so that links to them remain valid.

3. The American people have the right to interactive access to federal laws, regulations and rules. All federal laws, regulations and rules should be published online in a format that makes them easily searchable, sortable and downloadable, so that citizens can electronically participate in the development of laws, regulations and rules.

4. The American people have the right to track all federal spending and sc!
rutinize the federal budget. Data on how taxpayers' funds are spent, and the federal budget itself, should be searchable, with every earmark and appropriation electronically identified.

5. The American people have the right to demand objective, transparent performance standards for all federal agencies. Federal agencies should track their goals and achievements using a format that is electronically searchable, sortable and downloadable, so that spending data can be associated with performance.

6. The American people have the right to aggressive, independent oversight. Inspectors general at federal agencies should be kept independent and active, and should regularly evaluate transparency in government. . . . Disclosures by regulated entities -- such as filings by lobbyists, federal contractors and grantees, banks and public companies -- should be published online, in formats that make them easily searchable, sortable and downloadable. Citizens shoul!
d be empowered to scrutinize these disclosures and collaborate to expos!
e corruption, fraud and other abuses.

7. We must institutionalize a culture of open government. For the government's default setting to change from a presumption of secrecy to one of openness, a cultural shift must occur. Through education and outreach, Congress should strive to encourage decision-makers throughout all branches of the federal government to choose openness over secrecy."

Based on what has been occurring in Olympia this year, let's hope a state transparency caucus will be forthcoming.

Budget logjam? State law to the rescue

March 25, 2010 in Blog

As the 2010 Special Session enters its eleventh day, with no end in sight, the Governor has decided to dust off state law to help bring about a resolution. 

According to The Olympian:

Gov. Chris Gregoire warned Wednesday that she could be forced to make across-the-board cuts of 20 percent if the Legislature doesn’t come up with a budget-balancing agreement.

Gregoire expressed frustration about the continued stalemate between the House and Senate over a tax package.

“They were here too long as of Monday morning,” said Gregoire, who had initially called for lawmakers to finish the overtime legislative session by last Sunday.

She said that if lawmakers aren’t wrapped up with their work to patch a $2.8 billion budget deficit by the time the special session ends next month, she won’t ca!
ll them back to town unless they have a firm deal. If they don’t, she says, she’ll have no choice but to make drastic cuts to state agencies and programs.

“Every day we don’t get a solution is costing us more cuts. There’s no question about that,” she said. But, “calling it a day and doing 20 percent cuts, I don’t know when that would occur.”

As we highlighted prior to the regular session concluding, state law requires the Governor to balance the budget if the Legislature fails to. 

According to RCW 43.88.110 (7):

"If at any time during the fiscal period the governor projects a
cash deficit in a particular fund or account as defined by RCW 43.88.050,
the governor shall make across-the-board reductions in allotments for
that particular fund or account so as to prevent a cash deficit, unless
the legislature has directed the liquidation of the cash deficit over
one or more fiscal periods . . ."

Lawmakers have already had 70 days to adopt a budget. In fact, they're not even scheduled to do anything until tomorrow at the earliest. Since they don't appear to have any sense of urgency, why give them any longer?

The Governor should follow the requirements of RCW 43.88.110 (7) and balance the budget as prescribed by law.

While an across-the-board-cut is a blunt solution to a complicated problem, it is a solution.

This would allow the November election to be a referendum on the two strategies for balancing the budget: 1) massive tax increases, or 2) structural spending reductions.

Since lawmakers haven't been able to do their job to date, they should switch focus to campaigning for their preferred solution and allow the voters to set the stage for the 2011 Session.

Why Not Transparency for Good, Open Government in Washington State?

March 24, 2010 in In the News
The Biz Coach
The Biz Coach
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Senate Majority Leader defends transparency record

March 23, 2010 in Blog

Yesterday at her media availability, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown was asked about the Legislature's use of title only bills and the lack of adequate public notice on committee agendas.

Repeating her previous statement that the Legislature is much more transparent today than when she first took office, Brown defended the Legislature's use of title only bills and said she was unaware of the transparency problems described by reporters.

In fact, Brown said that I was wrong for indicating there was a problem. 

Here is the video of her exchange with reporters:

Since Senator Brown said she was unaware of the transparency problems being described, someone may want to bring these examples to her attention:

While this may be considered normal and transparent by Senator Brown, it is not what passes as transparency for the public. This is why WPC has drafted model language for a constitutional amendment to help put the public back into the legislative process:


THAT, Transparency and public disclosure in the legislative process is vital to a representative democracy.  THAT, At the next general election to be held in this state the secretary of state shall submit to the qualified voters of the state for their approval and ratification, or rejection, a new section amending Article 2, an amendment to Article 2, section 19, and an amendment to Article 2, section 22 of the Constitution of the state of Washington to read as follows:

Article II, new section.  No bill shall be eli!
gible for a public hearing until 72 hours after introduction.  No bill shall be eligible for legislative action of any kind unless it has first been subject to a public hearing in the same session of consideration.  No bill shall be eligible for legislative action on the floor of either house until 72 hours after it has been placed on the floor calendar.  This section may be suspended with two-thirds of the members elected to the house in which it is pending suspend this requirement, and every individual consideration of a bill or action suspending the requirement shall be recorded in the journal of the respective house. 

Article II, section 19. No bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.  No bill shall be eligible for public hearing or legislative consideration of any kind unless the bill shall lay forth in full the changes to any act or sec!
tions of law. Title only bills shall be prohibited.
Article II, section 22. No bill shall be eligible for final passage in either house unless copies of the bill in the form to be passed shall have been made available to the members of that house and the public for at least twenty-four hours, unless two-thirds of the members elected to the house in which it is pending suspend this requirement, and every individual consideration of a bill or action suspending the requirement shall be recorded in the journal of the respective house.  No bill shall become a law unless on its final passage the vote be taken by yeas and nays, the names of the members voting for and against the same be entered on the journal of each house, and a majority of the members elected to each house be recorded thereon as voting in its favor.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the secretary of state shall cause notice of this constitutional amendment to be published at least four times du!
ring the four weeks next preceding the election in every legal newspaper in the state.

One way to test for sure if the public shares Senator Brown's definition of transparency would be for the voters to have the opportunity to decide whether this type of constitutional transparency amendment is needed.