Transparency and Performance in Government

The Mercatus Center has a new working paper on the importance of government transparency. Authors Jerry Brito and Drew Perrault argue that, “Transparency is a means to an end and that end is accountability”. The paper discusses how transparency can improve government on two fronts.

First, transparency naturally deters corruption by addressing the principal-agent problem. In other words, as investors are required to be informed about the true state of a venture in which they invest, taxpayers are entitled to be informed about the true state of the government they fund. You can't keep government accountable if you don't know what it's up to.

Secondly, governments can use transparency to improve efficiency, like for-profit business, by placing pressure on employees to exert themselves. But transparency isn't a panacea – competition is by far the most powerful solution.

Most importantly they stress that government transparency cannot be voluntary and exceptions must be few and far between. They also acknowledge the limits of transparency, namely sensitive information and the public' s apathy, but overall placing the burden of proof on governments will lead to better performance.

Several bills in PA legislature HB 1460 and 1461, HB 1264, and SB 105 would greatly improve transparency through a public database listing state expenditures. On the national level the rush to pass health care and cap and trade has produced a “read the bill” resolution designed to foster transparency in the legislative process.

Read full paper on Transparency and Performance in Government.