Government transparency is one of those things that everyone says they support, but not many people give much thought to. But when you think about it, it’s pretty powerful stuff. Without transparency, a necessary check on government is gone. The media does its best, but with limited resources, a need to turn a profit, and other important demands on their time, they aren’t able to be a constant check on the tendency of government to conceal information from the public.
Yes, “conceal.” Some people might find that melodramatic, but you’d be surprised to learn how often government agencies try to avoid even the simplest and most banal disclosures. And when you think about it, there’s a certain logic to that. The public tends to get a little touchy about how their tax dollars are spent, and that’s something that can be worrying to a certain kind of bureaucrat. Rather than discuss why they felt the need to spend hundreds of dollars on catering, they’d rather people just didn’t know about it.
And that’s why it’s important that we support efforts like Grassroot Institute’s newest transparency project: Hawaii Sunshine. The newly launched website highlights all state expenditures and state salaries–it’s a treasure trove of information for any Hawaii citizen who is looking to really learn about where our tax dollars go. Even better, the site encourages people to participate in the fight for greater government transparency by giving people the ability to submit “Pork Alerts” with comments and information on specific expenditures on the site. And a forum lets visitors continue the discussion amongst themselves.
In truth, the Hawaii Sunshine site is a great toy. I just spent 20 minutes searching for different kinds of vendors and seeing how much money was being spent on restaurant meals, dry cleaners, taxi rides, and so on. So check it out, and (if you’re like me) try your best not to shout “I want my money back!” at your computer screen.