Public Trust & Accountability

A strong right of access to government information is a key component of an accountable government. In the simplest sense, accountability is being answerable for performance or results. Much of the public’s trust rests upon the government being openly accountable for its decisions, actions and mistakes. When the government operates in secret or refuses to disclose information to the public, it is in essence stripping the public of its ability to oversee and hold the government accountable. Often, a loss of public trust in the government results from these situations. However, it is the government that first displays a lack of trust in the public — a lack of trust to handle and understand the information.

Access to information on government decisions, how they were made, and the results of implementing those decisions are vital to enabling the public to hold the government more accountable and assess its performance. Without sufficient information the public cannot fully understand the context in which decisions are made.

Programs increase accountability by collecting and disclosing information about performance, curbing abuse, misconduct, waste, inefficiency and many other problems in government agencies, corporations, and even individuals. When such problems do arise, the information allows a fuller understanding and faster response.

Strong policies to actively disclose and provide access to information are essential requirements for a truly accountable government. While the right to access government information is not the only method to improve government accountability, it is one of the most fundamental and democratic. Access to information also acts a check and balance on other forms of accountability.

Unfortunately, because government accountability often means that responsibility or blame will be assigned to agencies, organizations or individuals, an inherent resistance exists within government. It is this reluctance to risk criticism and reprimand that often gives rise to the deeply entrenched secrecy that exists within government.

Recent policies with the biggest impact on public trust and accountability concerns

Freedom of Information Act
For more information on changes in the Freedom of Information Act click here.

Whistleblower Protections
For information on the status of protection for whistleblowers click here.

For more information on E-government click here.


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