Tag Archives: Health

Transparency Shouldn’t Have “Annoyance” Exceptions

Hawaii Reporter currently has a good summary of the effort to pass a law that would allow the Hawaii Department of Health to ignore requests for the President’s birth certificate.  (As you can imagine, there have been quite a few requests, and the DOH claims that it has become a waste of staff resources.)

Well, cry me a river.

A word of explanation: I once worked in a government FOIA office–for the Army as it so happened.  This was not long after two extremely unpopular Army decisions–the adoption of the Ranger beret for all soldiers and the awarding of the “Army of One” contract.  To say that we were besieged by requests for information about both of these things was an understatement.  Let’s just say that a large section of America was not at all happy about it and made that very clear as they sought more information about the decision process.

And “vexatious” requesters?  Well, I challenge the DOH to beat some of the doozies I encountered.  Processing something so simple and straightforward as a request for information about the microchips implanted by the Army in everyone’s brains was an easy day.

But I do have a point here–it didn’t matter what we in the FOIA office thought about the legitimacy of the requests we got.  We processed them.  Because that is the right thing to do.  Because an open and transparent government needs to treat all requests with respect–not just the ones that don’t annoy us.  And when we had to deal with the same question over and over and over and over again (like the beret), we did the logical thing–we made everything as open and easily available as possible and then streamlined the response process so that it didn’t use up too many of our resources.  (Hint to the DOH–Copy machines.  Use them.)  Did we gripe in the lunch room?  Sure.  But we never would have dreamed that someone would ever try to create a legal exception to the principle of transparency just out of annoyance.

As to why this is all important to the Native Hawaiian project–well, it should be obvious.  This is not a good precedent to set–especially in a state government that has made a lot of promises about sunshine and openness, but hasn’t always followed through.  If the legislature can carve out one exception to transparency policy out of reasons that amount to little more than bureaucratic irritation, then there’s not much to stop them from deciding that there are plenty of other things that they don’t much care to share with the public.

Making transparency a pick-and-choose option in the hands of bureaucrats violates the principle of open government and sets us on a slippery slope.

An Unhealthy Curiosity

Health disparities are both sad and frustrating.  As a local girl who did her law journal research on the problem of health disparities among women and minorities, I’ve long been concerned about how to address the problem.  The interesting thing about social problems, however, is that the answer is not always more money.  That’s just the easy way out for government: “Hey! Here’s a sad and worrisome problem!”  “Oh, no worries, we’ll just set aside some money for studies and an outreach project.  Problem solved.”  Or not.

Consider the news that Hawaiians and those of Asian descent often face certain health disparities.  Native Hawaiians, especially (we are told), are prone to obesity at a higher rate than the rest of the population.  Putting aside for a moment the inherent problems with how obesity is measured at present (and speaking of disparities–how about the fact that many of the measures for health are not tuned to obvious differences between ethnic groups), it’s not as though there have not been efforts to reach Native Hawaiians specifically in the realm of health care.  As you can see in our database, there is a large amount of money set aside specifically for Native Hawaiian healthcare.  But that hasn’t eliminated the disparities.  Interestingly, I think one of the best tools so far in making people in Hawaii (of all ethnicities) more aware of obesity, diet, and nutrition, is the more recent work from Sam Choy.  And he’s not getting a grant for spreading his message–heck, he’s creating employment for others in Hawaii.

And that really is the whole reason for this project.  No one is saying that these programs are good or bad on an individual basis–that’s for you to look at and determine.  (We’re just helping provide the tools to do so.)  But we do want people to think about how we’re trying to help Native Hawaiians and how well it’s working in a larger sense.