Holding the Government Accountable

Preventing the Next Watergate

As the head of a watchdog that monitors government corruption, my friends think I’m going to be the busiest person in Washington for the next four years.

Republicans and Democrats both tell me with certainty that if their opponent wins in November, the next administration will make Watergate look like an unpaid parking ticket.

At the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), we don’t endorse candidates. But we’re perfectly willing to offer advice to the contenders that would help them avoid confirming the worst fears of their critics.

If either camp wants to demonstrate seriousness about openness and fighting corruption and waste, there are three things their campaigns should do right now, well before Inauguration Day.

First, they should embed openness and accountability in the campaign. Each political operation has a culture, or way of doing business. If the campaign culture doesn’t include a commitment to transparency and ethical norms, it likely won’t have one after the election. You can’t just flip a switch and create that culture by policy fiat. The characteristics embedded in the campaign will spill over into the next administration.

Second, the candidates should release all materials and information that voters need to make their decision. These include policy briefs, tax returns, financial information, previous positions, and other relevant statements that give the American people a complete understanding of the candidate. Obfuscation and evasion before an election are problematic; afterwards, they’re dangerous. Integrity starts at the top of the ticket and trickles downward.

The third area of focus for campaigns should be on personnel. It’s essential that campaign roles and responsibilities are made clear to the public, and staff should be held directly accountable for mistakes. Those promoting openness and blowing the whistle on bad behavior should be publicly rewarded for their efforts.

In short, the candidates and parties have a lot of work to do to convince the American people that they deserve the public trust and four years of lodging at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As the leader of the nation, the President sets the tone and agenda for a multi-trillion dollar organization financed by taxpayers (not to mention serving as Commander In Chief of the most expensive and sophisticated military in history).

Whether you’re from the political left, right, or center, I think we can all agree that Americans want a more open, accountable, ethical, and effective government. Let’s push the candidates to show us how they would accomplish it.