Transparency in the New Year: Open Government and Gridlock

Does transparency help or hurt the function of our government? In continuing work at the Brookings Institution, scholars engage this question as one fundamental to effective governance and our understanding of our own system. In a January 2 opinion piece in the Washington Post, Gary Bass, Danielle Brian and Norman Eisen take up the cause, arguing that smoke-filled, closed-door, behind-the-scenes government is not the answer.

Bass, Brian and Eisen argue that claiming that FOIA, CSPAN, and other efforts to bring sunlight into government are missing the point. Instead, they point to broader problems such as the behavior of political parties, leadership in government, and money in politics as broader, more systemic problems that lead to the breakdown in our system.

They are careful to point out, however, that they “are not transparency absolutists.” They admit that there is a place in government for “private deliberations,” but that those opportunities are plentiful.

The opinion piece is useful to frame this question from one perspective. Moving forward, this debate will be robust and a healthy one for our democracy. Research in this area—on both sides of the issue—must first outline the debate and then explain how more or less transparency will affect processes and outcomes. As the conversation moves from the theoretical to the empirical, we will have a more comprehensive grasp not only of the problem, but also of a solution to the most obvious threat to good government: gridlock.