S1:E6 Transparency: Can you see it?

08 Jul 2020

Show Notes

Transparency helps ensure economic justice for our citizens.

Transparency in governance means that we can follow the flow of money into our communities.

Podcast

YouTube

Script

Transparency helps ensure economic justice for our citizens.

Transparency in governance means that we can follow the flow of money into our communities.

This is a tale of two cities: New York and DC. Really, it is a tale about two governments, one is a city and one is a national government. New York City is pretty special. Here is a trick question: Which of the following organizations is the largest?

  • The New York Police Department
  • the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • The Royal Air Force?
City Hall
New York City Hall

The City of New York

NYPD has 55,000 employees and roughly 38,000 sworn officers. New York City, if it were a nation by itself it would rank near Switzerland, Austria, and Sierra Leone based on population. If NYC had a GDP to measure its financial size, it would rank near South Korea. In 2011, I was told by a manager at the NYC Department of Social Service that it is the largest such agency in the United States.

One can follow their $90B budget down through each agency and out into each neighborhood. The city leaders have stated that transparency is an integral part of their governance.

Why a law? Well, laws have teeth. Laws have enforcement. Granted the law will be enforce with administrative process – it is a civil matter. So failure to get your agencies data published within the two week timeline likely won’t land you in jail. The law permits enforcement with actions involving terminations, re-assignments, and the like. Furthermore, modifying data (y’know lying) becomes something someone can enforce.

It is possible to use the data from NYC OpenData to accurately measure dollars spent within a neighborhood. These data are tagged with location information. Imagine a loan or grant program to help small businesses. Imagine funding that program with a million dollars – I can do math with a million. With the information on OpenData I can confirm that one million dollars was provided. I can draw a map and put colored pins were the money was used. I can follow the money from City Hall on Chambers street across a bridge, into a borough, down a street and into a neighborhood.

This is New York City. A vibrant city, and a city this Bostonian does love. I have lived there for a minute and learned that my roots in that city go back hundreds of years. My 5th great grandmother Ann Sparling married Bartholomew Musgrave at Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan on the 27th of September 1778. Ole Bart and his wife fled the City in November of 1783 as British Loyalists. It wasn’t until the 1960s that members of my family moved back to Manhattan. Don’t worry about my family, in Boston my family chucked tea into the sea and shot cannon at British ships in Boston Harbor from Dorchester Heights.

I digress.

New York stood up for transparency, wrote laws, then put those laws into practice.

Our federal government?

No such law.

United States Federal Government

We make no legal mandate of our government to formally and completely publish data regarding governance, budgets, and expenses.

In 2009, the then chief executive of the United States implemented some policies, wrote some memoranda. That president wrote: “The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government.” He signed that memo on the very first day he was in office.

The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government.

President of the United States (2009) Tweet

In 2009, the then attorney general wrote: “The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government.”

 That particular AG also wrote: “The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.”

The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government...
The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.

United States Attorney General (2009) Tweet

Failure of Executive Memos

Executive Memoes are not law. There is no enforcement

two

Executive Memos get superseded by the next executive with a new memo

Transparency in governance stands as a sentinel against corruption. It is part of the contract we once-upon-a-time forged with our government. Section 8 of the Constitution states the Congress shall have the power to pay debts, provide for the common defense and general welfare and it shall be uniform throughout the United States.

Constitution states the Congress shall have the power to pay debts, provide for the common defense and general welfare and it shall be uniform throughout the United States.

Section 8 U.S. Constitution

In 1789, we strove for economic justice with the language of the day such as equality and uniformity. We identified the duties of the government to provide for  justice, security, and welfare.

We do not have a law that provide detailed access to how public funds are spent?

We do not have a law that enshrines public information as publicly available?

We do not have a law that ensures transparency in governance.

What do we get as a result?

Full Transparency!

On Sunday, 29 March 2020, Treasury Secretary Steven Munchin stated that the $2T CARES Act will provide aid with full transparency.

No, its Proprietary & Confidential

On Wednesday, 10 June 2020, Mr. Munchin testified before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship: “We believe that that’s proprietary information, and in many cases, for sole proprietors and small businesses, it is confidential information.” 7 million business signed up to receive a publicly funded loan/grant program. We each signed acknowledgements and authorized disclosure of our data.

Shut Up - I'll fake it

On Friday, 19 June 2020, Mr. Munchin reversed his statements regarding the confidentiality of PPP data. It is still incomplete as data for fund recipients below $150,000 will be aggregated and summarized by industry. Loans/grants for larger values will be presented in brackets – X to Y and A to B.

Data.gov

Before closing, let’s take a tour of the federal governments open data initiative. The site is called data.gov. January of 2020, the government announced partial completion of milestone two-dot-one: 26 agencies are publishing data on data.gov.

Next, SBA participates in this program. They have 134 dataset available. They are called SBA Public Datasets. So I will open the list of 134 public datasets.

SBA Data

This looks like real data. This is kinda my world as a database programmer. We love this stuff. Dozens and dozens of these public datasets say: “Not available to the public. Additional information is available on an as needed basis due to security concerns.”

Missing Data from SBA

Row after row of “not-public”. Many of these were changed in June of 2017.

Nothing Here

We do not have a law that ensures transparency in governance.

Not Available to the public. Additional information is available on an as needed basis due to security concerns.
"NOT PUBLIC"
U.S. Small Business Administration

SBA OpenData

What do we get as a result?

We get confusion.

We do not get transparency in governance.

You do if you live in New York City, I guess.

If you think that transparency and honesty have a role in our government, drop me a comment, share this video with others. We are releasing essays (podcast, YouTube, article) about economic justice and corruption with public funds every Wednesday at 3pm Eastern time.