Washington state government is not corrupt, but it should be more open and accessible to citizens.
WASHINGTON earned a D+ this year in the Center for Public Integrity’s latest investigation into open-government laws.
The state ranks 12th overall in the nation, but such a poor grade should force more citizens to consider what is being kept secret from them.
Government agencies have had years to adapt to the rise of the Internet, which has made it easier for people to request and find information. Yet the intake of information has not kept pace with technology — nor have data that should be publicly accessible enough at local and state levels.
The CPI report notes that since the Washington Public Records Act passed in 1972, the number of exemptions from disclosure has risen from fewer than 12 to more than 400.
There is no reason why lobbyists should still be submitting expense reports — sometimes in handwritten form — to the Public Disclosure Commission. If people can book camping reservations and renew licenses online, lobbyists should be expected to submit campaign expenses the same way — and that information should be immediately searchable and accessible.
Though the PDC website lists the names and salaries of Washington’s top-paid lobbyists, visitors cannot easily find out which lawmakers lobbyists treat to meals or entertainment without opening up scanned Portable Document Format (PDF) files.
After numerous failed efforts to get the Legislature to fund system upgrades, the PDC lacks the tools it needs to audit campaign contribution filings and financial disclosure forms. Troublesome trends may go unnoticed without closer scrutiny from those with the time and patience to scour these records.
State agencies — and local governments — need to adapt their thinking to the 21st century.
Public-information officers should spend less time drafting news releases and more time making data available to the public. If staff could make data intake more efficient, they would not constantly complain about not having enough resources to fulfill requests.
Government departments pull information all the time for their own research purposes. They should do the same for taxpayers.