Transparency and Accountability

Published: October 17, 2008

By Jim Lichtman
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“The contractors are making a killing.  The lobbyists are getting their fees… Everybody is making money here — except us.”

So said Army Space and Missile Defense engineer Michael Cantrell when speaking about his kickback scheme from vendors who do business with the government.

The New York Times reported (Oct. 12) that Cantrell “…along with his deputy, Doug Ennis, had lined up millions of dollars from Congress for defense companies.  Now, Mr. Cantrell decided, it was time to take a cut.”  (That’s Cantrell and Ennis, second and third from the left, with contractors and Congressional aids, on a fishing trip in Alaska.)

“Determined to save his job,” the Times reported, “[Cantrell] often bypassed his bosses and broke department rules to make his case on Capitol Hill. He enlisted contractors to pitch projects that would keep the dollars flowing and paid lobbyists to ease them through. He cultivated lawmakers, who were eager to send money back home or to favored contractors and did not ask many questions. And when he ran into trouble, he could count on his powerful friends for protection from Pentagon officials who provided little oversight and were afraid of alienating lawmakers.”

This is a system that both Senators McCain and Obama say is broken and needs to be fixed.

How do they intend to do that?  What’s their plan?

When you clearly have so many people involved, and so many ways to “game” the system, exactly how are you going to restore integrity to a process that has been so corrupt for so long?

Obama and McCain have spoken, repeatedly, about the need for transparency and accountability in government.  If they seek genuine government reform they need to define their terms, put forth a plan and explain to the American people how they will implement that plan.

Transparency, from an ethical standpoint, means being open and candid.  In government, it means that the business of the people should be open to public scrutiny and oversight, (the obvious exception being National Security issues where oversight is ostensibly accomplished by closed-door Congressional committees.)  The purpose is to not only hold public officials answerable but create an atmosphere where there is less opportunity for corruption.

Accountability, according to Merriam-Webster, means “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.”  The dictionary offers this example: “public officials lacking accountability.”  (Even Webster recognizes the problem?)

In a survey I conducted in 2006 on Honesty and Trust in America, I concluded that “Americans are no longer willing to go along with ‘business as usual.’  They expect to know exactly how that business is conducted and for whose benefit.”

In the final question of that survey, “What 2 or 3 specific changes would have to take place in order to improve honesty and trust in America?” more than 8,000 responded with what they believe is needed most of public officials:

“We need more statesmen as leaders.”

“We need to remind each other that we are all Americans.  That we’re not Republicans or Democrats, Liberal or Conservative, Left or Right.”

“We need… leaders who communicate openly with the people.”

“We need leadership that places a high value on honesty, even when they have to pay a high price for it…” “…But, it will take special people with great courage and influence, as well as time.”

The questions for McCain and Obama – Do you have the courage and influence necessary to reform government?  And how long will it take?


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