Accountability 2021 is a comprehensive agenda of key policy reforms for Joe Biden’s administration to repair critical gaps in transparency, ethics, and oversight in the federal government. At stake are our democratic institutions that face a historic crisis, hastened by the Trump administration’s unprecedented secrecy, defiance of the rule of law, disregard of norms, consolidation of power and corruption.
The Accountability 2021 initiative is centered on six broad categories that reflect the foundation of a responsive government. The following outlines the significant problems in each of the categories and some of the core recommendations to the incoming Joe Biden administration on how to fix them.
PROBLEM: Gaps in the record of our government’s decision-making prevent accountability and enables corruption.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Biden should appoint a Chief Accountability Officer to elevate transparency and ethics measures. The new administration should resume the release of visitor logs for the White House and federal agencies, and direct the Office of Legal Counsel to publish all formal written legal opinions. The administration should also require the Department of Justice to create a comprehensive federal database of use of force incidents involving police and civilians, and tie federal grant funding to compliance with reporting the data.
PROBLEM: Failure of ethics rules to protect against self-dealing by public officials, undermine confidence in government and create conditions that foster corruption.
RECOMMENDATIONS: The new administration should ban senior government officials from holding stock unless holdings are in blind trusts or widely held mutual funds. It should issue an executive order that prohibits the appointment of any person who received a “golden parachute” from their employer. To foster accountability, it should require disclosure rules and forms that allow the public to scrutinize officials’ financial interests.
PROBLEM: Congress’ capitulation of its constitutional authorities to the executive branch on critical matters has resulted in executive branch overreach and abuse of its power.
RECOMMENDATIONS: The Biden administration should initiate a review of congressional information requests to the administration over the past four years to determine what documents previously withheld should be shared with Congress and the public. It should direct the Department of Justice to investigate, charge and sentence without political interference, and to develop a new transparent publication procedure for its Office of Legal Counsel’s unclassified opinions.
PROBLEM: Whistleblowers still face retaliation for speaking out against wrongdoing because the laws that protect them from retaliation are inadequate.
RECOMMENDATIONS: The Biden administration should appoint a Special Assistant to serve inside the Domestic Policy Council to address the structural and cultural issues that plague whistleblowing systems across the federal government. To address the current backlog of over 2,500 whistleblower cases, it should appoint qualified individuals to the administrative board that adjudicates federal workers’ claims.
PROBLEM: Attack on regulation reached new heights over the past few years, with government prioritizing the costs to regulated entities rather than the benefits of sensible regulations that protect Americans’ well-being.
RECOMMENDATIONS: The Biden administration should avoid policies that reinforce the false premise of a trade-off between protecting the public through regulations and promoting economic growth. It should rescind deregulatory executive orders that undermine public protections and delay implementation of final rules not yet in effect. It should also issue a new executive order that ensures regulatory decision-making is timely, reliable, transparent, and accountable to the public.
PROBLEM: The response to the coronavirus pandemic was driven by political considerations rather than the best interest of the country, with devastating health and economic consequences on Americans, especially people of color, low-wage workers, and other vulnerable populations.
RECOMMENDATIONS: The Biden administration must learn from the missteps of the Trump administration and ensure policy decisions related to the coronavirus pandemic are informed by medical, scientific, and health experts within the government. It must also protect the experts’ right to communicate research findings and opinions directly to the public and the media. Additionally, the administration must direct relevant agencies to collect accurate information on the disparate health and economic impact of COVID-19. Biden should also issue an executive order committing to fill open science positions in accordance with the law and require all science agencies to have chief science officers.
The comprehensive list of Accountability 2021 recommendations is available here.