More Sunshine, Not Less

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The flow of information between government and citizens is changing rapidly with new technology. Maryland isn’t exactly leading the pack in adapting to these changes, but it’s not operating in the dark.

Sunshine Week, a news media effort to focus on the need for more transparency, is a welcome reminder that open government should be the reality, not just an ideal. To that end, legislation being considered by the General Assembly would allow the state budget office to create a Web site detailing state grants, loans, contracts and other transactions over $25,000; it’s the way to go. Gov. Martin O’Malley’s vaunted StateStat program is helping administrators and the public track the performance of state agencies.

On a potentially broader scale, an informal group, including journalists and other information seekers, is set to examine how more of the state’s routine business, which is kept increasingly in electronic files, can be made available to the media and the public.

Certain records and information should be more accessible to help pinpoint systemic failures – or successes. There’s a bill in the legislature that would give Baltimore’s Health Department greater access to records of young offenders under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Services and could help identify useful interventions to stem youth violence and delinquency. There also should be a greater push to make public actions taken by child welfare or juvenile justice agencies when a child in their care dies.

Legislation is not the only tool against secrecy. Whenever possible, court proceedings and records should be open so that failed policies can be identified – and corrected – more quickly.

Making government more accessible and accountable to citizens is a multi-pronged process. Maryland is certainly moving in the right direction, but it needs to pick up the pace.

Copyright 2008 Baltimore Sun

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