Transparency vs Blunt Honesty
April 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm #96532
One of the new(er) requirements for federal IGs is to provide reports to the public within a certain time after publication. Our office at State has started publishing our reports online, but the process has created a whole new internal debate about what is “appropriate” to include in a report. I’m in Inspections, so we work more at a performance level than audits or investigations. There’s the obvious personal information about employees that doesn’t belong in a report, but then there’s a huge gray area. Should we be using a “Washington Post” test (don’t put in what you don’t want to see on the front page), or should we be ignoring the fact that our reports will be public and put in everything we used to, or somewhere in between? Everyone seems to have a different answer. It’s difficult to find the compromise between transparency of information, and being bluntly honest with our department leadership and Congress about where we have problems and what needs to be done about them.
So I’m curious about other IG offices, and whether you’re having similar debates or what your solutions may be.
April 2, 2010 at 1:09 pm #96538
Actually, blunt honesty would probably be appreciated by your departmental leadership and I know it would bolster your credibility with Congress. “Transparency” has too often morphed into a buzzword meaning “massive data dump largely devoid of real content that will hopefully keep external audiances too preoccupied to really figure out what is going on.”
Transparency documents in the public and private sector divulge reams of numbers, facts, governance procedures, meeting minutes etc but almost never report items like:
“The project is behind schedule because the four local jurisdicitions involved are too busy with petty bickering to cooperate and agree on objectives.”
“The foriegn aid is being diverted because that is what two-bit tin horn dictators do but we need them right now so we are pretending not to notice.”
“The organization is a mes because the director failed his/her way to the top when previous agencies gave him/her glowing recommendations to speed him/her up and out.”
“The legislation is failing to achieve it’s objective because the committee of jurisdiction has not held oversight hearings in living memory so the bureaucracy correctly determined it is not really important.”
Yes, blunt honesty hurts and does not look good on the front page of the newspaper but it is the only way to face reality and force necessary changes. “Transparency” that does not facilitate honesty is little more than a box checking excercise with little real value.
April 13, 2010 at 12:44 am #96536
See very few discussing here. Also few only joined as members.
When ever I am asked to sign NDA and work towards creating plans and documents promoting “transparency”, I wonder how much anyone wants my actions “accountable”. Nobody seem to care. Be Transparent using diplomatic language that is double edged proposition. Although a bit dubious, but yes that is an attempt to be transparent. A step in the correct direction, not completely there. Keep trying, don’t get there yet too fast, be around, a bit discreet and circuitous. Keep talking and seem to be telling, although not everything.
May 3, 2010 at 12:37 am #96534
Colleen, very good question. I can share with you that our shop does not hesitate to call it like we see it. We practice the belief that we have to be able to tell our customers (Dept and Congress) what they need to hear not what they want to hear. We do redact the appropriate info when necessary but have on more than one occasion written a separate report for public so the story is told without a lot of redaction.
We have been able to maintain a good relationship despite some hard hitting reports. In fact our report tone was pretty harsh towards the end of the past administration. With the new administration and their early efforts to work with us and to address all concerns our tone has softened but we continue to point out deficiencies and problems. The difference may be that with our relationship with them at this point they often are made aware of issues as we write so they can address the issues quicker. I do not believe this challenges our independence or subjectivity but facilitates better results.
So, my vote is be honest, pull no punches, and be transparent. We post all but criminal cases on the Internet.
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