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Salute watchdogs during Sunshine Week

Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 11:12 a.m. CDT

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From the earliest days of the republic, America’s Founders fought tooth and nail to strike the proper balance between an effective federal government, the sovereignty of the states and the natural rights of individuals.

The timeless principle of self-governance embodied by the Constitution preserves the blessings of liberty and prosperity in America more than two centuries later.  Thanks in large measure to the leadership of James Madison, widely acknowledged as the Father of the Constitution, Americans today live in a free society, protected by freedoms of religion, speech and the press and rights of assembly, privacy and property.

The influential Federalist essays, co-authored with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, served as a catalyst in the 18th century for ratification of the Constitution and flesh out the brilliance of our system of checks and balances today in the 21st century. As a member of Congress, Madison also spearheaded adoption of the Bill of Rights.

His legacy for promoting and protecting the free flow of information and the public’s right to know is observed as National Sunshine Week throughout the week of Madison’s birthday, which was March 16, 1751.

Among my highest priorities in the U.S. Senate are holding the federal government accountable to the taxpaying public, making its policymaking transparent to the people and demanding scrupulous stewardship of public programs and resources. The federal bureaucracy too often circles the wagons and erects a stone wall to bypass transparency and accountability.

Even the federal judiciary has resisted my bipartisan-led efforts to let in the sunshine.  I’ve championed legislation that would allow cameras into federal courtrooms and the Supreme Court.

An informed and engaged citizenry has a right to see and a duty to digest why the courts rule one way or another on issues that shape our society and impact how federal laws apply to daily life in America.

Justice Louis D. Brandeis wrote in 1913 that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”  I couldn’t agree more.

That’s why I work to throw open the shutters of the federal bureaucracy. My most recent oversight work has found ongoing fiscal mismanagement at the Pentagon; squandered tax dollars for federal housing assistance; mismanagement of foreign visa programs; and, negligent stewardship of Medicaid dollars financing substandard dental care for low-income children. 

Fortunately, the good works of good government watchdogs breathe down the necks of wrongdoers and obfuscators to spread sunshine into the public’s business.

America needs these truth seekers to infiltrate closed doors of corruption, negligence and injustice that infect the works of good government. Mold and mildew won’t disappear if left in the dark. And once exposed, these areas require thorough scrubbing to remove the damage and constant vigilance to prevent reoccurrence.

From investigative reporting by the media, to internal Inspectors General who audit federal agencies and courageous whistleblowers who step forward to expose waste, fraud or abuse they witness on the job, we need all hands on deck inside and outside of government to hold the public’s business to account. Unfortunately, this administration has not helped to dispel cynicism and restore the public’s trust despite pledges that this White House would practice “unprecedented” openness and transparency.

From the IRS to the FDA, FEC, NSA and the FCC, examples of stonewalling, secrecy and snooping underscore why it’s so important for watchdogs and private citizens not to let down their guard.  I applaud the recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld federal law extending whistleblower protection to contractors and subcontractorsof publicly traded companies.

And the D.C. Court of Appeals also delivered good news leading up to National Sunshine Week. It unanimously stood up for the Freedom of Information Act to protect the free flow of information and government transparency.

Using legislative and oversight tools bestowed by the Constitution, I will continue fighting tooth and nail in the United States Senate to protect the public’s right to know and make government more accessible. That includes strengthening federal whistleblower and freedom of information laws that protect the rights of private citizens and foster better stewardship of public services. 

History shows that transparency and accountability bring stability to institutions of government. Americans owe a debt of gratitude to those who carry on James Madison’s legacy of a free society. 

National Sunshine Week offers a good reminder to government watchdogs to keep a tight-fisted grip on freedom’s torch that helps burnish America’s commitment to openness and transparency for generations to come.

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