Newsom and Dickey (2014) noted that the world is progressing towards technological development. Whereas it is moving toward the technological age empowered by science, the systems of governance have remained conservative. Communication and transparency between governments’ agencies and the public are still facilitated by the use of traditional forms of technology such as mass media adverts and public announcements among others (Bovens, Goodin, Schillemans & Meijer, 2014). Although some states in the USA have made good steps towards the use of technology, there seem to be very feeble efforts to ensure vast and robust application of the same. Essentially, the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 recognize the importance of using technology as a way of ensuring transparency and accountability. It provides that the citizens should be able to track and assess how the government is spending their tax through the respective websites. It requires the treasury to provide standardized measures on the amount of information the government organizations can avail on their websites. The basic comparative analysis between this act the real situation on the ground portrays a huge gap. In other words, the stipulations of the policy are not contextualized into the contemporary forms of technology such as the emergence of social media. In this regard, therefore, the government’s agencies and institutions should come out bold to use emerging technologies such as Twitter and Facebook to ensure effectiveness and increased transparency.
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Contemporary Barriers in the Transparency Policies
The present communication and disclosure policies are essentially detrimental to the desired level of transparency. A close view of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 exposes some of the crucial lapses in the transparency standing. The analysis indicates that the act has five critical provisions. First, it expands the direct disclosure of expenditure by linking federal loans, procurement, and contracts to the public systems and relevant websites (Bovens, Goodin, Schillemans, & Meijer, 2014). This is aimed to ensure that the public can access and evaluate how the government is spending. Second, it simplifies the reporting processing by reducing the cost involved. Third, it facilitates the establishment of extensive federal data that can be searched selectively. Fourth, the act seeks to provide quality data to ensure that the citizens get the correct information. Lastly, the bill provides to apply the recommendations made by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board regarding the question of how the government spends. Whereas this is the most fundamental activity that is expected to facilitate the use of technology, it clearly does not emphasize the use of the internet in ensuring transparency. Also, it does not take into account the emerging technologies that have been enabled by the internet. In particular, it does not provide clear guidelines to incorporate the use of social media in ensuring accountability. Surprisingly, the bill was stipulated and enacted in 2014. At the time of enactment, the executive, and the congress were fully aware of the fact that social media cannot be ignored. Bryfonski (2012) indicated that in 2012, 71 percent of American adults use the Facebook platform. As a result, it can be argued that avoiding social media is a critical mistake as far as policy formulation is concerned.
From another perspective, the act seems to dwell on the ability of the government to provide information to the public. It ignores the ability of the citizens to engage in interactive discussions with government agencies. In other words, communication is essentially a one-way system. Understandably, transparency is seen as a process that serves two purposes. First, it allows the public to understand how political, social and economic decisions are made. Second, it enables them to make contributions to take part in making those decisions (Peled, 2011). However, this act seems to only concentrate on enabling people to understand how decisions are made. Although the citizens can still communicate through websites by contacting the agencies directly, communication is inefficient and slow. The inefficiency is caused by the use of email and commentaries. As such, this implies that the act should have considered social media as an efficient and real-time system. Besides facilitating efficient, wide, and fast communication, it makes the entire discussions public to the citizens. Besides this bill, the 111th congress enacted the highly regarded act known as the Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2009. This act focused on two critical issues that included how the Comptroller General audits the Board of Governors and the reporting process (Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2009, 2010). Whereas it seeks to address the issue of how the findings of the audit are reported, it disregards the use of social media and the internet to ensure transparency. The overall analysis shows that crucial transparency policies have disregarded the importance and efficiency of social media. This is an important gap in the pursuit to create an accountable and transparent governing system.
Use of Social Media to Eliminate Transparency Barriers
The above analysis portrays the existing gap between transparency-based policies and the actual technological situation in the country. In principle, the policies are not taking into account the use of trending technologies including the internet and social media. Although the policies show the intent to incorporate these technologies, the commitment is feeble and the implementation frameworks are visibly absent (Marquardt, 2011). In this regard, therefore, the question as to how social media can be incorporated into government communication and public participation emerges. Various undertakings can be considered to ensure that the government uses social media effectively and professionally. First, it should remove the notion that social media is an informal platform. As such, this will be an important point of departure as far as the use of social media is concerned. Second, the government should enact policies to legalize the use of social media as a viable platform for communication. This implies that the communications provided by the government offices through social media are officially acceptable and admissible in a court of law. They should then encourage and direct all their agencies to open social media accounts with Twitter and Facebook.
These accounts will be used for official purposes only and the communications made are considered official. In addition to this, the agencies and government offices should create a digital communication department. This is a post that should be focusing on the Facebook pages and Twitter accounts on a real-time basis. Essentially, the customer care department should be compelled to address clients’ concerns through these accounts. This proposal is necessitated by the fact that some of the government offices are absent from social media. In some cases where they already have the accounts, it is not uncommon to find that the accounts were updated last time when there an event. This inactivity is killing the very possibility of interacting with the citizens. As such, some of these agencies should consider hiring a remote social media manager. These managers provide services for the management of social media for very busy government agencies. Indeed, most of the young people consider social media communication as a viable option. This preference, when coupled with the high number of subscriptions in the country, implies that the government can successfully interact with the public on a real-time basis. As such, contemporary technology is an unexploited opportunity that can increase the level of transparency and accountability. This does not only apply to government institutions but also publicly traded companies that may wish to communicate with their shareholders effectively.
It cannot be disputed that there exists a gap between the stipulation of policies and their relevance in terms of technology (Piotrowski, 2007). In this regard, the policies are inconsiderate of the growing usability and practicality of social media. As a result, the well-meaning policymakers are sleeping on an opportunity that can overhaul the way agencies communicate and increase accountability. As such, it is necessary to incorporate social media and active use of the internet to engage the public. This should be done by first removing the notion that social media is an informal platform. The policymakers should then stipulate legally abiding acts that allow the use of social media for such official purposes. This implies that the agencies can be questioned based on the information they provide on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Bovens, M., Goodin, R., Schillemans, T., & Meijer, A. (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Public Accountability, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2009. (2010). Washington: USA GPO.
Bryfonski, D. (2012). The Global Impact of Social Media. Detroit, MI: Greenhaven Press
Marquardt, J. (2011). Transparency and American Primacy in World Politics. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.
Newsom, G., & Dickey, L. (2014). Citizenville: How to take the town square digital and reinvent government. Westminster: Penguin Books.
Peled, A. (2011). When Transparency and Collaboration collide: The USA Open Data program. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci., 15(6), 2085-2094.
Piotrowski, S. (2007). Governmental transparency in the path of administrative reform. Albany: State University of New York Press.