This paper describes how social and environmental objectives have been undermined when past U.S. administrations have failed to respect the basic principles of participatory democracy and informed decision-making.
The 44th President of the United States will enter office faced with an unprecedented set of complex and urgent challenges, including a fragile financial system, spiraling energy and food prices and renewed demands for leadership to combat global warming. To succeed, the President needs to respond with a combination of strong leadership, participatory democracy and informed decision-making that reflects principles of good governance and respect for the rule of law. This paper describes how social and environmental objectives have been undermined when past administrations have failed to respect these basic principles. Given the unprecedented nature of the challenges ahead, it is especially important that the next President of the United States, Democrat or Republican, lead a government driven by transparency, inclusiveness and accountability in decision-making.
A transparent government recognizes that all government-held information—subject to narrow exemptions—should be made publicly available in a timely manner and proactively discloses the information upon which its decisions are based, the sources of that information and the names and affiliations of those involved in decision-making.
An inclusive government pursues the balanced and well-informed participation of citizens, civil society organizations and representatives from the private sector across the political, ideological and socio-economic spectrum to create a policy-making process that is respectful of sound science and a diversity of views.
An accountable government is bound by the rule of law, respects constitutionally enshrined checks and balances, is aggressively both open and responsive to the scrutiny of the public and the media, and enforces the law of the land in a non-partisan and even-handed manner.
This note reviews the practices of previous administrations in the context of relevant constitutional and legislative provisions, and attests to the vulnerability of a system of delicate checks and balances to abuse of power. It brings to light significant negative impacts that have resulted from an opaque and unchecked presidency and makes the case for better governance in the next administration.
Specifically, this note demonstrates that:
- Government-held information should be made available to the public unless limited and clearly articulated exceptions apply. Task forces and ad-hoc committees, not otherwise governed by formal rules, should conduct their work in a transparent and inclusive manner by making publicly available the content of their deliberations as well as the names and affi liations of the participants.
- The President should not issue signing statements to disregard or decline to enforce a law or to interpret it in a manner inconsistent with the will of Congress. In addition, executive branch officials and agencies should cooperate with Congress in its oversight duties, limit the exercise of discretionary power and abstain from asserting executive privilege to shield the administration from legitimate congressional oversight and requests for disclosure of information. Congress on the other hand should reaffirm its versight responsibility and take necessary measures to exercise its duty even when faced with a reluctant executive branch.
- The President should guarantee the non-partisan enforcement of the law and the scientific integrity of federal agencies by appointing administrators that will respect the advice of technical and scientific experts, pursue the non-partisan prosecution of the law and interpret legal provisions in a non-partisan and even-handed manner. The President should protect the right of scientists and researchers to publicly review and comment on documents that use their research or work. Finally, the political review and communication of findings should not undermine the integrity and independence of scientific data and analysis.
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