By editorial board • 

Government of the people, by the people

Every March, organizations devoted to open government celebrate Sunshine Week, focusing on the efforts of news organizations and their allies in the neverending battle for transparency from our elected officials and bureaucratic leaders. The 2020 version may need an extension, though.

Officially, March 15-21 was chosen as the week. But the website is now declaring it as “March 15-21 and beyond, 2020.” 

Government entities appear to conceal information any chance they get.

A recent example came from the Labor Department’s Office of Employment Insurance. Administrator Gay Gilbert instructed precise unemployment figures not be released.

Instead, he directed staff to “provide information using generalities to describe claims levels (very high, large increase)” until the Labor Department made public the total number of unemployment applications on March 26 — more than a week later. His justification was to mitigate any impact those numbers might have on the markets — as if everyone didn’t already know unemployment filing had reached record levels. 

As the industry organization America’s Newspapers said in an editorial: “It is disturbing that in a crisis that entangles public health, macroeconomic cratering and personal financial tragedy, the federal government reflexively chose secrecy, however temporarily, over transparency in a matter of overwhelming public interest.”

Despite staff reductions at every level, newspapers mostly spent Sunshine Week celebrating by example instead of talking points.

For instance, the Oregonian pressed Gov. Kate Brown about the level of data available at the state level regarding the coronavirus outbreak. Even general information like patient age range and hospitalization totals were being withheld.

Two days later, the governor ordered the Oregon Health Authority to publish the kind of detailed information that would have been available for weeks. 

To commemorate the annual recognition of government transparency, Oregon’s Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle released a statement praising recent changes in the state regarding public records. She said, “When we get through this crisis, and people want to look back and examine how decisions were made, what went right and what went wrong, open and ready access to public records will be critical for all of us to understand what happened and prepare for the future.”

We often hear from government officials about the need for transparency. But putting those ideals into practice just doesn’t occur enough. That’s why a system of “watchdogs” is so necessary to the democratic process.

A national crisis makes that need clearer than ever. As American’s Newspapers stated: “As we enter into a new era with the conoravirus pandemic, it is more important than ever to maintain an open government and for the news media to be vigilant in protecting this important right.” 


Web Design and Web Development by Buildable