It comes down to incentives.
In private companies, what’s the worst thing that can happen to you, as a business owner?
Losses. If you can’t make money, you can’t stay in business. Private sector industry loves communicating and advertising itself — far more than many of us prefer — because it has no choice. It is less likely to lose money if people know about their product. And every business owner wants to make enough money to feed their families.
It’s a different story in government. What’s the worst thing that can happen to you as a government employee? While it varies from agency to agency, there is one consistent thing all government employees fear — appearing in the New York Times. Or the Washington Post. Or Government Executive. These stories have real impacts on the operations of these agencies, because Congress — the Federal Government’s Board of Directors — doesn’t like these stories. Budgets get cut. Even if their budgets aren’t cut directly, they are cut de facto, because the agencies that are the targets of these stories will be forced to institute additional oversight mechanisms, which itself is a cost.
In business, sales and revenue determine whether a business says in business. In government, Congressional votes replace revenue. Criticism costs vosts. Criticism is the negative incentive that drives government.
So what does this have to do with openness? Being open invites criticism. It is impossible to criticize what you don’t know. And that’s why government has a hard time being open; those who are most open are the most easily punished.