Q&A: Sunshine and Accountability with U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley Print
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Written by Sen. Chuck Grassley   
Monday, 19 March 2012 12:31

Q:        What is Sunshine Week?

A:        In 2005, a group of advocates, including journalists, launched a national initiative to encourage individuals to play an active role in their government at all levels and to work to give them access to information about their government.  Sunshine Week is scheduled each year to coincide with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution.   The observance promotes a dialogue about open government in honor of Madison’s founding principle that government gets its limited powers by “consent of the governed.”  Transparency and the accountability that results strengthen our system of self-government.

 

Q:        What’s the role of transparency and open government?

A:        Letting the sun shine in and making information public is basic to accountability.  James Madison wrote, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”  As a U.S. senator, I’ve championed the public’s right to know with oversight and enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act, fighting for disclosure by federal agencies of the people’s business, and pushing for measures to protect watchdogs and whistleblowers.

For many years, I’ve worked to keep the people’s business open for public consumption by shedding light on information from federal agencies.  The taxpaying public pays the bills and deserves to know how its government operates.  Bureaucratic stonewalling harms public confidence in our system of government.  Accountability is needed to safeguard the integrity of the rule of law.  These principles are at stake in my current oversight of the Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious gun walking fiasco that allowed the illegal sale of thousands of weapons in the United States which then often flowed to Mexico, for example.  They are why I’m standing up to the Federal Communications Commission to release information about a fast-tracked licensing agreement.  Responsible stewardship of public programs is on the line when the Department of Housing and Urban Development fails to oversee how federal dollars are grossly misused, and I want to make sure the problems are fixed.  My scrutiny of reports from Inspectors General about Defense Department spending also is drawing attention to egregious waste and misconduct.  With $500 billion in controversial defense budget cuts proposed, the waste described in the reports is the perfect place for the Pentagon to begin its belt-tightening.  To curb fraud and overpayments with health care dollars, I seek greater disclosure and oversight of where Medicare and Medicaid dollars are spent.  The judicial branch should be open to the public, as well, and I’m making progress on my legislative effort to allow broadcast coverage of the federal courts and the Supreme Court.

The sunshine effort has no better friend than whistleblowers.  Private citizens and government employees who come forward with allegations of wrongdoing and cover-ups risk their livelihoods to expose misconduct.  The value of whistleblowers is the reason I continue to challenge the bureaucracy and Congress to support them.  As one whistleblower said famously, they “commit truth.”  Over the years, I’ve worked for enactment of several whistleblower initiatives to protect and empower these patriots.  Whistleblowers have made a positive difference by standing up to defense contractors and pharmaceutical companies, for example.  They’ve helped hold accountable the Defense Department, the FBI, the Food and Drug Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.  Currently, I’m seeking to update the bipartisan Whistleblower Protection Act that I first authored in 1989, so that it continues to protect from retaliation whistleblowers inside the federal government, including those involved in homeland security.  This latest bill has been approved by the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and awaits action by the Senate and House.

Q:        In addition to an informed citizenry, how does our system of government establish accountability?

A:        Congress plays a major part in a system of checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches of our government, and restoring some of the checks and balances that have eroded is an important challenge for Congress, where the people have a voice through their elected representatives.  The Constitution vests all legislative power in Congress yet, year after year, Congress passes legislation that delegates more power to the executive branch without really assessing the full impact of those laws and how that power is used.  Federal agencies are increasingly bypassing Congress by imposing new regulations that Congress never intended.  This year, in addition to a focus on major regulations handed down from the executive branch, fundamentally important protests have been made over the President’s effort to put the executive branch above the other branches of government with unprecedented appointments to high-level government positions.  The President purportedly exercised his temporary recess appointment power, despite the fact that Congress was not in a prolonged recess.  What’s happened is both unconstitutional and counter-productive.  It’s an approach that Americans rejected 235 years ago.  And, working to finding common ground with the elected representatives of Congress would be more productive than trying to govern by edict from the Oval Office.

As an elected representative, I’m committed to cultivating the freedoms and responsibilities of all Americans.  And, as James Madison wrote, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

Monday, March 12, 2012