What the Trump administration means for open government

(Photo credit: Tim Evanson/Flickr)
(Photo credit: Tim Evanson/Flickr)

On Nov. 8, the American people voted to elect Donald Trump to be the 45th president of the United States in a stunning repudiation of establishment politics. The outcome of this election confounded predictions and polls, leaving a nation and world wondering what will come next in an election cycle that had long since ceased to follow decades of political norms.

Given the election’s outcome, the country and world is now thrown in deep uncertainty. People are understandably asking questions about what a Trump administration would mean for open government.

So are we.

If the president-elect wishes to reduce corruption and make Washington better reflect the will of the American people, Sunlight stands with a coalition of open government allies who have been working to enact reforms for the past decade. Transparency will need a reboot in the administration. We cannot allow a new administration to wipe or corrupt the disk.

Where the Obama White House has had a mixed record on open government, President-elect Trump has no record of public service at all, spending the past half century in the private sector, but his record on the campaign trail is deeply discouraging. By any reasonable measure, Trump was the least transparent presidential candidate in modern history.

The boundaries of the Presidential Record Act and the federal government’s strengthened records preservation laws and rules are, however, a profoundly different environment for archiving and accountability than the norms in the private sector, which Trump’s company flouted when it systematically destroyed email and records in defiance of court orders.

So too are the checks and balances provided by the Congress, the federal courts, agency inspectors general, the Government Accountability Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the independence of which will be crucial to ensure in the years ahead. Many people in our civil service will face hard decisions in the months ahead, from the Department of Justice to younger institutions. Patriotism in public service will take many forms, both in private and in the public eye.

Our North Star must be the protection and advancement of democratic values that the United States was founded upon. It is our collective responsibility to uphold the rights enumerated in the Constitution, and to ensure that they are respected by all aspects of our government.

Of these rights, the First Amendment will be crucial to uphold at home and abroad. The voice, power and influence of the United States has been a boon to the men and women reporting from the front lines of wars and the back streets of autocracies. We cannot abandon those fighting to speak truth to power and reveal corruption to their public around the globe.

Our nation should not cede its leadership in open government internationally. We look to the President-Elect to honor and build upon the third National Action Plan for Open Government domestically. Advancing an aspirational view on the importance of democratic governments that are accountable to their people has been part of the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as Department of State’s mandate for decades.

We know what’s worth defending: the laws, rules and regulations that make a government by and for the people open to the people. Fighting authoritarianism, wherever it exists. Protecting press freedom and the rights of the public to access information. Building upon the improvements to Data.gov. Defending hard-won gains that have led to the legal and public disclosure of government data, relevant to every sector of our society, on the internet. Publishing notices, meetings, draft rules and regulations on a rebooting Federal Register, Regulations.gov and comment systems for the public to read and respond.

Our shared history teaches us that the American union is strongest when we build upon shared democratic values of transparency and accountability that transcend party lines. As we move forward into the next stage of American history, we must find common ground to do so together. Where hard-won progress on open government programs, platforms and initiatives are threatened, we must stand and defend them, together. Where opportunities exist to advance reform and renewal, we must build upon a decade of progress, together.