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After Labor Day, White House should work on openness



Published: Sat, September 1, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Bush administration should make a Labor Day resolution to return to Washington with a new commitment to open government.

The president is fond of talking about how his tax cuts are giving the people back their money. It is your money, you're told. Yet when the White House calls people together to talk about your energy costs or your Social Security taxes, suddenly it's none of your business.

Why is that?

Precedent: The Republicans were perfectly right to scream bloody murder eight years ago when Hillary Clinton started having secret meetings to discuss health insurance. We're still waiting for the outcry over the Bush administration's closed-door deliberations about energy policy and privatizing Social Security.

The General Accounting Office has asked Vice President Dick Cheney for information on the workings of his energy task force. He has flatly refused, treating this information as if it were some kind of trade secret.

Except for national security issues, government doesn't have any trade secrets. It is government's job to do the work of the American people, and to do it honestly and openly.

When government isn't open, the people become suspicious, as they should. By refusing to say who served as his advisers, Cheney is only feeding the suspicion that he put together a committee of oil and energy industry cronies whose interests may not be the same as those of most Americans.

If so, it does the administration no good to stonewall. Sooner or later the information is going to come out. Better sooner and better from their lips than by virtue of an enterprising reporter or a congressional subpoena.

Compounding the error: Now the White House has compounded the energy fiasco with an emerging controversy over Social Security. If there's one thing Americans are more concerned about than the cost of gasoline, natural gas or electricity, it is the health of the Social Security program.

The administration is making many of the same mistakes there that were made in studying the energy crisis. The only difference was that the members of the commission are known, and all were on record in advance as favoring some sort of privatization.

The commission has broken into two groups, assuring that no single meeting will ever have a quorum, thus will not have to be held in open session.

Here's fair warning to an administration that apparently thinks it can develop public policy in secret. You can develop the policy, but that doesn't mean the people will accept it. Even good policies can fail when they are drafted by secret committees.




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