As Americans shift their attention to an historic election next month, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) is calling for an end to deeply troubling trends that have damaged the public’s trust in an open government. The decline in transparency is particularly alarming regarding COVID-19 transmission data and vaccine contracting, as vital public health decisions are increasingly being addressed by government contractors.
Most recently, the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” has doled out billions of dollars of coronavirus vaccine contracts with little to no transparency, bypassing traditional federal contracting rules. As a result, key documents and trial results from multinational drug makers are shrouded in secrecy, exempt from public disclosure.
The lack of transparency comes at a time when trust in government decision-making is fractured and increasingly politicized. Earlier this year, the CDC system for tracking coronavirus hospital data was replaced by outside vendors, reportedly sparking concerns from government watchdogs that public business was being conducted behind the scenes.
“Respect for the public’s right to know is an essential feature of a functioning democracy,” said SABEW’s First Amendment Committee chair Henry Dubroff. “There is no national security issue with these contracts, so it is hard so see why the administration is hiding them from public view.”
The public is eagerly anticipating and needing access to safe and effective vaccines, and the administration’s actions threaten to undermine confidence in that life-saving effort.
Last year, SABEW called for timely access to government economic data. Unfortunately, the surge in economic uncertainty stemming from the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the need for transparency from both business and health regulators. Regardless of who is in the White House, Americans deserve timely, transparent information regarding how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars on critical health and economic measures.
SABEW is the world’s largest organization dedicated to business and financial journalism. SABEW’s First Amendment Committee offers training and programming opportunities related to press freedom, transparency and access to data.