How Is Government Reinventing Accountability?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Keeping records is an incredibly vital part of today’s world. Whether you’re talking business, education, law enforcement, government, or anything else you might name, keeping reliable records and gathering data is how we build a comprehensive longitudinal view of everything from policy efficacy to financial accountability. Strong data and record keeping can help to illustrate what areas of success or failure are being seen in a company or government body; if the intended effect of a law change is resulting, or if unexpected results are occurring; if a company’s new business plan is leading to growth at a rate higher than anticipated, or if other areas of the company are suffering as a result and cutting into the resultant revenue.

The last few years have really emphasized the need for government and public offices and services to reinvent how they think about recording and reporting their data. It’s no longer an optional or loose matter of keeping paperwork. Let’s look at a few areas where reporting and data collection is becoming key.

Police and fatalities

Both President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have discussed the need for more organized and clear reporting of civilian deaths in police altercations. “Right now, we do not have a good sense, and local communities do not have a good sense, of how frequently there may be interactions with police and community members that result in a death, result in a shooting,” said President Obama.

This is important not only for civilians, but also for the sake of officers. Rather than leave these numbers and their causes to the imaginations of an already sensitized public, it’s better to have very objective and clean reporting in order to protect not only civilians, but the officers who are often simply working hard to do their jobs. According to FiveThirtyEight, it’s still unclear just how many police killings occur annually. The number has risen from the last estimate, but remains under-reported. With the federal government leading local authorities toward state- and community-tailored reform, information on how each area functions, or fails to function as well as it should, is key.

Diversity in the federal workforce

President Obama passed Executive Order 13583 in August of 2011, demanding increased efforts toward a more diverse federal workforce, in addition to a number of similar orders for Americans with disabilities, veterans, and different racial/ethnic backgrounds. The order called for a plan to improve the process by which the government can “hire, promote, and retain a more diverse workforce.” It also calls for an evaluation of the effectiveness of this plan, which means taking into consideration specific data on who is hired and where they work.

Obama has put something similar in place for women in the workforce, and generally, the need to account for different hiring practices has become important across the country, if only to qualify for certain tax cuts and incentives offered by the federal government.

SIGAR

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) is proof of the necessesity of regular reporting and auditing on major governmental efforts, especially with special challenges like those seen in Afghanistan reconstruction. The report has repeatedly released details of mismanaged funds or missing information, all of which can be just as important as the information that is available.

Of course, there are downsides to all of this increased documentation, and to the additional policing of different organizations’ data. But when one looks at events at the Veterans Affairs Department earlier last year, it’s clear that a more stringent and accurate consideration of the numbers being put out by the Department could have saved lives. If wait times were considered more closely, it might have been noticed that the reporting and paperwork wasn’t adding up.

In Afghanistan, it’s obvious that fiscal waste, and waste in the form of effort, certainly takes place. And while sometimes this is inevitable, it still demands the need for close monitoring to ensure mistakes and corruption are recognized and controlled. This sort of system should be in place for American aid given elsewhere, including in South America to mitigate immigration push factors in local communities. The need for accurate data from major companies results in annual auditing for many, and even the average American keeps personal financial records in one form or another. Record keeping is key to reform, but with insufficient information, the United States can’t make effective headway. It also helps to investigate corruption and inadequacy. Many investigations, including the VA, Ferguson, and the IRS investigation, would have been much smoother with more readily available information.

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