Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Transparency, Accountability and Citizen Responsibility

I just attended a terrific presentation by Julie Germany of George Washington University's Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet ( She offered a range of useful facts and figures designed to make the point that in today's super-charged, technological world, citizens expect more relevant information and more interactivity from their elected officials than ever before -- and they want it about 100 times faster than they've ever wanted it. Anyone who has worked in a Congressional office (and lived to tell the tale), can attest to the truth of these increasing and some might say overwhelming expectations.

Increased government transparency, specifically in the form of getting more information about what government is doing (dollars spent, meetings held, bills introduced and considered, etc.), is catering to that desire. Let me start by saying I have no
objections to sharing this information. In a "government by the people," (believe it or not, we're still that) citizens have every right to all the information they want about what government's up to (or isn't). It shouldn't be a secret.

At the same time, though, I think it's incumbent upon those demanding the information (or complaining about all the "secrets" in Washington, DC), that they make an effort to understand the content and relevance of the information once they get it and have some sense of what to DO with what they've learned.

All too often there's an "Emily Litella" quality to citizen communications with elected officials. For those under the age of 40 who are reading this, Emily Litella was a fictional character played by the late, great Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live (back when it was funny). She would get absolutely OUTRAGED about things like "violins on TV," until someone told her it was "violence on TV" and then she would say, as only she could, "oh! well, never mind." Believe me, it's funnier when you see it, which you can on You Tube.

How many times a day do people misinterpret what they read on the Internet (or believe without question) and then decide to contact a Congressional office in an outrage? Enough to shake the foundations of Congress with a loud chorus of "never minds."

Granted, fear mongering is a tactic sometimes used by the unscrupulous to inspire action -- but don't succumb! The next time you're tempted to be outraged about something, make sure you really should before you call all in a huff. And if you have ample reason for outrage, then figure out how to approach your legislators in a way that will capture their attention. If you need some help with that, check out articles on my site at

Hope this helps, and happy (thoughtful) advocating!

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