OPINIONS
Story last updated at 11:34 a.m. on Thursday, July 5, 2001

Your Views:

More on trust of government

To The Oak Ridger:

In a previous letter, I discussed reasons for the public's distrust of the government and other large bureaucracies. Here I will continue the discussion of government and organizational ethics that are the source of the distrust, and will discuss why public oversight is so important to maintaining ethics, which are necessary for trust.

Is it na´ve to believe that ethics apply even when money is involved, that lying is wrong, and that governments and corporations need to be overseen by independent parties who cannot be controlled by threats of loss of funding?

Perhaps it is, and maybe I learned the simplistic childhood lesson of "The Golden Rule" a little too well for my own good. While I do realize that nothing is black or white, but rather many different shades of gray, I strongly believe an individual's goal is to try to stay as light gray as possible.

I also believe it is our job as members of a democracy to challenge authority -- even the government's -- despite the risk of economic sanctions from those being challenged (or from others who are susceptible to pressure from them as well).

It is important to realize that government agencies and other bureaucratic organizations hate to fund watchdog organizations such as the Oak Ridge Reservation Local Oversight Committee, which they view as making trouble for them.

For those oversight groups that are funded, the organizations being overseen desperately try to keep them under control with threats of loss of funding, which are generally quite effective since other sources of oversight funding are practically non-existent.

As a result, many oversight efforts are extremely ineffective and often become rubber stamp groups simply doing an agency's bidding.

Shying away from asking the difficult questions is a characteristic of ineffective oversight groups who are afraid of retribution.

Regarding how to regain public trust, the government must allow members of the public to oversee them and to ask the hard questions without invoking economic sanctions and other penalties against them.

It must provide effective whistleblower protections for workers who speak out about problems.

In addition, employees in a government agency must strive to enable the public to obtain what it needs (and certainly not obstruct their obtaining it), even if it is not in that particular agency's best interest regarding funding and maintaining full-time equivalents.

Finally, the government must truthfully answer our questions and provide the data we request, and perhaps even some information not requested -- despite being counseled not to by their lawyers.

Only by doing these things will the government (and government employees) ever regain the public's trust.

Unfortunately, trust reconstruction is going to be much, much harder than the incredibly difficult task of dose reconstruction.

Susan Arnold Kaplan
Knoxville

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