Lankford Shines Light on Need for Transparency in Government, What They Need to Fix
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor during Senate Republicans’ “Sunshine Week” in support of government transparency and the need to fully implement his Taxpayers Right-to-Know Act. In January 2021, Lankford applauded final passage of his Taxpayers Right-to-Know Act, which Lankford fought for since 2011. The Taxpayers Right-to-Know Act ensures completion of a functional federal program inventory that can be used as a tool for oversight of federal spending; to highlight good stewardship of tax dollars; and to provide greater transparency of duplication, inefficiency, and waste. Lankford has long maintained that government transparency is something we should all agree on.
You know about four weeks ago, it got cold in Oklahoma, really cold. My house was negative 14 degrees. Now, Steve Daines from Montana is used to that, but in Oklahoma, we’re not used to negative 14 degrees. It was overcast, snowy, cold. And then the sun broke through, and we had a day that it got up to 30 degrees, and it was like everyone was going to park. It felt so nice because the sun was out even though it was cold.
Sunshine has a great way of making everyone lift and look around and go where has that been? I think that happens in the federal government as well. I thank Senator Joni Ernst for hosting what she’s calling Sunshine Week to be able to say what are we doing to put a little light into the federal process to be able to make sure people can see into some of these programs, because all the time I hear from people when something comes on the news and they’ll say, ‘Where did that come from?’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, that was poked in some bill that probably no one read.’
Let me give you an example of it. Two weeks ago when the quote, unquote ‘COVID’ bill passed for almost $2 trillion in spending, I’ve already had folks that come back to me and say, ‘I’m grateful for the $70 million for the Small Business Administration to increase loans by $70 million.’ And I say, ‘Well, great. You know what the administrative cost was on that $70 million program? The answer is $390 million in administrative costs, $70 million in loans. That’s in the bill.’ And everyone looks at me and says, ‘Oh, didn’t know that.’
Lots of states around America right now, their legislatures are meeting including mine in Oklahoma, and they’re suddenly finding out that bill that was for, quote, unquote COVID-related mandated that no state in America could reduce taxes on anyone. And lots of states are going, ‘Wait a minute, we were planning on reducing taxes on working families in certain targeted areas,’ and they’re finding out, nope, you can’t do that. And they’ll say things like, ‘I didn’t know that was in the bill,’ because there wasn’t any sunshine on that bill. I worked for years to pass a bill called the Taxpayers Right-to-Know. It’s a pretty common sense bill. It asks the simple question. This body has heard me talk about it year after year after year. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not actually easy to move a bill in this place. And some things that are very common sense take forever.
This was my simple bill. The federal government, every agency has to list every program that they do, how many employees they hire to do that program, what is the cost of the program, and is the program evaluated. If it is, just put the evaluation numbers with the program. Why would I say that? Because I talked to agency heads that start a new program, and they get two years down the road from starting a new program. Then they find out a different agency has already done that for five years. Then we get together and find out a third agency started that ten years ago. And none of them knew about the other program. Now before you think that doesn’t happen, oh, yes it does. It happens all the time.
Not only that, when I want to ask a simple question to say how many options do we have for whatever it may be. How many programs do we have for STEM education, for instance? How many different incentives have we put out there, and how many agencies are helping provide greater STEM education? The agencies can’t tell me. They can eventually tell me what’s in their agency but don’t know what other agencies are doing. And when I go to the GAO, the Government Accountability Office, and ask them, their answer is, ‘I’ll get you an answer back in about 18 months.’ Months. Eighteen months, before they can tell me how many STEM programs we have in the federal government. I should be able to do an internet search and get that in 18 seconds, not 18 months.
The Taxpayers Right-to-Know bill requires the Office of Management and Budget to actually work with every agency to get a master list of every program across the federal government, how many employees they have, if it’s evaluated, and what it does. It’s pretty simple. It’s basic transparency, but it allows any American and all Members of Congress to be able to see what do we do and do we have duplication in government.
Now, again you may think that’s simple and straightforward. It is. But it took years to actually pass, but we finally got that passed and signed into law last December. And when I met with Gene Dodaro, who heads up GAO, and asked him about that because he’s been an advocate of that for years, he said, ‘We need an unequivocal commitment from the Office of Management and Budget to implement this properly because we have to actually get this done.’ Sunshine helps.
We can see how many is spent. We can see how duplication actually functions. We can’t reform what we can’t see. And the American people perpetually get frustrated with what they didn’t know was in a bill and find out later and they don’t like it. In the days ahead I’m going to release my annual Federal Fumbles book. As we do every year. And in that Federal Fumbles book this year, we’ll outline where our debt comes from. Because I run into so many people that say, ‘We have debt. Who is our debt? Is it all china? And I’ll say, ‘Well, actually, $1.6 trillion of it is from China. And we’re paying them interest every single year on that debt. But it’s in a lot of other places.’ And a lot of people misunderstand what government debt really is.
This needs some sunshine because if we’re going to solve this, the American people have got to be able to see it and so do we.