What We Do
We believe that effective government should reflect the needs and priorities of the American people, as defined by an informed, engaged citizenry. Our mission is two-pronged:
Enhance public understanding and appreciation of what government does and how it operates in all of our communications. If we expect our national government to manage large-scale societal challenges, citizens need to believe that government can contribute to the common good, protect the health, safety, and quality of life of all Americans, and manage resources for the future; and citizens need to know to how they can participate in governance decisions between elections.
Protect core governing processes from undue influence by special interests, through analysis, advocacy, and strategic partnerships inside and outside of Washington. We particularly focus on effective implementation of critical public protections, improvements in public spending transparency, and reforms that enhance government performance and public oversight of governance practices.
Effective, accountable government requires elected officials and public employees to put the public interest above special interests and operate with the highest ethical standards. We support reforms that ensure the integrity of the processes and people that we employ to keep the public sector working. To build a more open, responsive, and effective government, we:
Examples of Our Work & Successes
The Center for Effective Government conducts policy research; develops and advocates for policy reforms; creates tools to encourage citizen participation and government accountability; and builds broad-based coalitions to advance these values. To ensure the American people understand the vital role of government, we produce and disseminate educational materials. We are a resource for policymakers, the media, advocacy groups, community organizations, and the public.
As a leader in promoting open government, in March 2013, we released a report evaluating the first term of the Obama administration's open government reforms, Delivering on Open Government: The Obama Administration's Unfinished Legacy. We found that, despite setting a strong policy platform for open government, implementation of executive orders and openness plans was uneven across agencies; the administration was not able to establish a "culture of openness." On national security issues, the administration's record is quite disappointing. We offered 10 specific recommendations for President Obama's second term and are actively working to see them implemented over the next four years.
The Center for Effective Government has a long track record of "lifting the veil of secrecy within the executive branch of government." In January 2013, we released an investigation of the Office of Advocacy at the Small Business Administration and its efforts to block scientific assessments of the cancer-causing potential of three chemicals (formaldehyde, styrene, and chromium), based on documents we obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Small Business, Public Health, and Scientific Integrity: Whose Interests Does the Office of Advocacy at the Small Business Administration Serve? demonstrated a close relationship between agency staff and trade associations and industry lobbyists supported by large chemical manufacturers. We recommended changes in the office's policies and called for increased congressional oversight to rein in in appropriate behavior by this office. As a result of our work, congressional staff have started asking questions about the office's practices. We continue to monitor its actions.
Concerned with the impact of automatic spending cuts, we created a page on our website, "Sequestration Central," where people can find our analysis such as "Undoing Sequestration," the latest news from a range of sources (including a list of human interest stories documenting the impact of sequestration cuts), and calls to action, including our March 14 letter to Congress signed by more than 300 national and state groups. As an earlier part of this effort, we released an analysis, Mitigating the Impact of a Temporary Sequester, outlining the Obama administration's options to mitigate possible automatic cuts (sequestration). The report was distributed to Senate Democratic staff by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office. Its argument was covered, with quotes, in the most important political media in Washington, including Politico, The Hill, National Journal, Government Executive, and The Washington Post's WonkBlog.
We have been leaders on environmental right-to-know issues since the late 1980s when we created RTK NET as an online source of environmental data, and we continue to help advocates push for improved access to government-held information on the environment, health, and safety. In July 2012, we released The Right to Know, the Responsibility to Protect: State Actions are Inadequate to Ensure Effective Disclosure of the Chemicals Used in Natural Gas Fracking, a report that examines state chemical disclosure laws and rules and establishes the elements that an effective oversight policy should have. We continue to monitor state efforts to establish more oversight of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) operations and coalitions of engaged citizens working on this issue. In addition, we were part of a Wyoming district court lawsuit brought by public interest groups that sought to make public the chemicals used in fracking.
We have been leaders in the spending transparency field since the mid-2000s. In 2006, we launched FedSpending.org, a website that combined federal spending data across federal agencies. It became the prototype for the official federal website USAspending.gov (the federal government licensed the program from us). We successfully worked with the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to ensure that the $787 billion in stimulus funding that was dispersed over 2009-2012 was "the most transparent" in history, and the former chairman of the Board, Earl Devaney, recently noted that the reforms we pushed were responsible for the extremely low rates of fraud associated with stimulus spending. We advocated to have the lessons learned from the Recovery Act incorporated into spending protocols for all government agencies, and this goal has been incorporated in the U.S. government's National Action Plan (part of the Obama administration's international Open Government Partnership initiative). We continue to advocate for the actual implementation of lessons learned.
We also have a long history of working in coalitions to leverage resources and amplify impact. The Center for Effective Government is co-chair of the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards (CSS) with Public Citizen. We manage CSS through our Outreach Coordinator and provide support from our Communications and the Regulatory Policy Program's analytical work. CSS is an alliance of consumer, small business, labor, scientific, research, good government, faith, community, health, environmental, and public interest groups, as well as concerned individuals. It has grown to more than 75 national members and 75 state and local groups, has its own website, and is actively engaged in countering the attacks on regulations. We incubated and remain on the Steering Committee of the OpenTheGovernment.org coalition and currently coordinate a related monthly meeting of government accountability groups (No Free Lunch Caucus). We are engaged with several revenue and spending coalitions and are on the steering committee of Americans for Tax Fairness and the Coalition on Human Needs.
In all our work, the Center for Effective Government is committed to creating and promoting long-term, proactive initiatives that will improve the lives of all Americans. These are just a few examples. Please visit the different sections of our website and sign up to receive the latest news and opportunities to take action.