Transparency is a crucial facet of good government that was severely eroded during the Trump administration and has continued to be lacking in the current administration. From Trump’s decision to keep the White House visitor logs secret to his refusal to release his tax returns, the erosion of good government norms has undermined accountability. Traditions and customs that once held government officials accountable are not sufficient. However, Congress has the power to increase accountability by requiring transparency measures in appropriations bills. Through the power of the purse, Congress could expand the public’s ability to access important information, no longer having to depend on the whims of each administration’s commitment to transparency.
CREW has sent written Congressional appropriations testimony requesting several specific transparency measures. Congress should give online public access to the records in the Legislative Resource Center, which houses financial disclosures and other similar documents. Public access to these records would give citizens a clearer understanding of who is influencing government officials and what interests they are catering to. In addition, Congress should require that the Secret Service make White House visitor logs publicly available online. Citizens should not have to depend on each administration’s decision of whether to release the logs voluntarily. Rather, the public has the right to know who has the ear of top government officials. Congress should also require government-funded, privately operated immigration detention centers to include certain records within FOIA’s purview. Since these facilities are government-funded, the public deserves insight into the operations of these detention centers. These accountability measures are achievable through the Congressional appropriations process, and would give the American people more insight into who is influencing their elected officials and whether taxpayer-funded facilities are complying with the law.
Transparency is essential to holding the government accountable for their actions, and the power of the purse, which is key to creating stronger transparency throughout government, should not be ignored. The previous administration demonstrated the need for stronger safeguards for transparency and accountability. Congress has the power to ensure that greater transparency is a requirement, not an option.