Open government advocates and Democratic leaders in Congress are angry the Trump administration seems to be walking away from crucial transparency language in the economic stabilization package.
Aside from the funds to make voting safer and more convenient this fall, the democracy reform movement was pleased most by a provision in the law creating an independent watchdog to oversee a $500 billion fund to bail out companies crippled by the coronavirus pandemic.
But after signing the $2 trillion package last week, President Trump signaled he would decide what this inspector general could share with the public and Congress. And when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sought Sunday to dispel concerns about government accountability in administering the biggest domestic economic relief package in American history, he refused to pledge that the IG would be permitted to testify on Capitol Hill.
Advocates of open government are sounding the alarm that local, state and federal officials are too quickly sacrificing public access to the cause of public health during the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is the worst time to be putting up obstacles to access," said Daniel Bevarly, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, a group of state and national organizations promoting access to the meetings and records of government.
Bevarly is referring to a recent flood of emergency legislative changes, courthouse closures, orders from governors and mayors, and legal guidance from attorneys general making it more difficult to watch government in action — and at a time when officials are making sometimes unprecedented economic and public safety decisions in managing the Covid-19 outbreak.
Six of the most influential democracy reform groups are at the core of a new coalition, dubbed Fix the System, with the goal of putting more conservative and corporate muscle behind a cause that's generally dominated by progressives.
The effort comes at a time when many in the good governance movement worry their efforts are too diffuse and disconnected, and tilted too far left at a time of divided government. The hope is that, during a time of pandemic fear and economic distress, political polarization will ease enough to permit some good governance changes to muster bipartisan support.
The alliance has been in the works for months but was formally unveiled this week, along with its first public effort: getting Congress to include money to make voting easier and safer this year in the nearly $2 trillion coronavirus stabilization package.
Bierbauer, a former dean at the University of South Carolina, was a longtime CNN Washington correspondent.
Journalists learn to adapt to current conditions, be they storms or tantrums, vagaries of nature or whims of officials. White House correspondents these days should be well past their withdrawal symptoms from the daily delirium of the once-regular White House press briefing.
Earlier this year, as 300 days passed without a formal briefing, a bipartisan group of past administration press secretaries called for restoration of the daily briefings.
"Bringing the American people in on the process, early and often, makes for better democracy," they said in an open letter on CNN.com.
"The process of preparing for regular briefings makes the government run better. The sharing of information, known as official guidance, among government officials and agencies helps ensure that an administration speaks with one voice," the former spokespersons said, adding that this is particularly important in foreign and military policy.