Transparency isn't a hard word to understand. You might say the meaning is so clear we can see right through it (sorry, I couldn't resist). But seriously, think about it…do we really need to review Merriam Webster's definition to understand transparency? Transparency is defined as, "something transparent: a picture viewed by light shining through it or by projection. The quality or state of being transparent."
Maybe we should consult a higher authority than Merriam-Webster to understand true transparency. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul said, "But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light" (Eph. 5; 13). The key to transparency is light. Light exposes everything that is darkness and it pushes the darkness away so we can see clearly. There can be no secrets, no whispering, and no ambiguous speech present if we are to experience true transparency.
On the campaign trail, candidate Obama promised if elected, "When there is a bill that ends up on my desk as a president, you the public will have five days to look online and find out what's in it before I sign it, so that you know what your government is doing." But ten months into President Obama's administration it appears the sun has set on transparency. We were promised nothing but complete transparency in accounting for the $700 billion plus bailout of the banking industry. But so far, no one can say for sure how the money has been spent. Some banks are lending but many more have just padded their investment strategies and kept the money locked away. We don't know which is which of course because there has not been anything near a clear accounting of the dispersal of the TARP funds.
Transparency certainly hasn't been the watchword on Capitol Hill. The much ballyhooed $787 billion stimulus package was 1, 073 pages long and committed the United States government to the biggest spending increase since World War II. Yet the final vote on the bill came less than 24 hours after House and Senate conferees agreed to a deal. There wasn't even time for members of Congress to read the bill let alone offering it to the public for pre-signing scrutiny.
Transparency was also apparently lost in the shuffle over the plethora of healthcare plans considered in the House and the Senate. The "Baucus Bill" that emerged from the Senate Finance Committee was whisked away before the ink dried so the details could be hammered out behind locked doors. No Republicans were allowed in the closed-door meetings and Democratic Senators who worked on the bill were sworn to secrecy. The end result is a 1,502 monstrosity that reads like stereo instructions written with Roman numerals. Here is just one paragraph from the Senate version:
"Title XXVII of the Public Health Service Act is amended (1) in section 2705 (42 U.S.C. 300gg), as so redesignated by section 101 (A) in subsection (C)(i) in paragraph (2), by striking "group health plan" each place that such appears and inserting "group or individual health plan"; and (ii) in paragraph (3)(I) by striking "group or individual health insurance"; and (II) in subparagraph (D), by"…. well, you get the idea.
Even if the members of the Senate had a year to digest all 1,502 pages of the bill it would take a team of lawyers and tax experts to decipher and explain the language. One of the keys to transparency is cleanly written, understandable legislation that doesn't obscure the intent of the authors in unintelligible legal speak.
Not to be outdone in a quest for a new brand of "opaque transparency" the House of Representatives also worked behind closed doors as they crafted their version of healthcare reform. When the House finally opened the door to reveal their handiwork only those on Speaker Pelosi's VIP list were allowed to attend the bill's roll out. The House healthcare bill is almost 2000 pages long and contains the same kind of impossible to comprehend language as the Senate bill.
The American people deserve better than the contradiction of the promise of transparency and the reality of a closed-door government. Transparency, without the light of truth shinning through, is just a word. It's time for the Obama administration to embrace true transparency by letting the light in.