“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”
So said former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who could be considered a forefather of Sunshine Week. No, not some Spring Break in Florida for government workers, but an annual initiative held the week of James Madison’s birthday to promote open and transparent government. The term “operating in the sunshine” means conducting business in a for-all-to-see way that enlightens and empowers people to play an active role in their government – one of the key elements of a democracy. Sunshine also serves to curb misdeeds or abuse.
The sunshine concept took many years to evolve. It gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s, when news reports of federal abuses and “enemies lists” prompted Congress to pass legislation to open up government to greater public view. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Government in the Sunshine Act, and the Privacy Act were some of the products of a push for good government.
Another sunshine initiative was the 1978 Inspector General Act, which created IGs in 12 of the largest federal agencies to detect and prevent fraud and misconduct in agency programs and to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of agency operations. The law has been amended over the years to increase the number of agencies with IGs to 73, including the Office of Inspector General for the Postal Service in 1996. Right off the bat, we took the concepts of openness and transparency to heart. Shortly after setting up the agency, we launched a website and started publishing reports online. In fact, we’ve posted so many reports on our website that you would have to comb through 143 pages of summaries just to find them all. (Fortunately, we have a search function that makes it easy to find what you want.)
We created a webpage to notify stakeholders of audit projects before they start so we can gain your insights on those projects. We launched this very blog 5+ years ago to open a dialogue with you on issues affecting the Postal Service. Finally, we have fielded lots of FOIA requests, – formal, written requests for records maintained by the OIG. We handled 36 in FY 1998. Last year, that number topped 600 formal FOIA and Privacy Act requests; more than 4,500 total in our 18-year history.
At a time when the future direction of the Postal Service is at stake, how government does business is of heightened public interest. (The Postal Service is considered part of the government.) And that is arguably at the root of the sunshine concept. It’s your government; you are entitled to know how it is carrying out its mission.