What big ideas can help America solve its most pressing problems? In an ongoing project, Yahoo News is soliciting creative, outside-the-box and possibly controversial (but still credible) solutions. Here's one about government and culture.
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COMMENTARY |Doing good things directly and giving to well-run charities will always be more efficient than giving to a huge bureaucracy, such as our federal government, and watching what they do with the money. Why is that? It's because the money is filtered through way too many people who all want a piece of the pie, without necessarily doing anything to deserve it.
If the government were run more like a great charity, however, perhaps things would be different. When I pay my tax dollars to the government, I don't want them to simply own that money and do with it what they please. I want to see where it's going, and what is actually being done with it.
The first step toward true government transparency would be for government agencies to be required to itemize everything they do before they do it, from special events, to paying salaries, to actually getting things done. All those items need to go online in a clear, easy-to-read list. Taxpayers shouldn't have to jump through hoops to obtain this information through the Freedom of Information Act. Any spending over the planned amount should be documented, and taxpayers should have the right to request that overspending on frivolous things be forced out of the pockets of the people who overspent.
The second step toward true transparency is great documentation. Videographers, photographers, and writers should be allowed to freely donate their time to document any activity that is paid for with taxpayer dollars. This is already happening in some ways, but in order for taxpayers to easily put all the pieces together in one place, line items listed online by the government should link to documentation provided by the people doing the documenting.
The final step toward government running as a great charity would be the ability of taxpayers to put their money toward specific projects or expenditures of their choice. Any overage would go into the pool to pay for the remainder of government costs. Tax rates could stay the same initially, but some people may pay more when they realize they have more direct involvement, and can truly see their tax dollars at work, going toward something they believe in. Tax rates could probably be voluntary if citizens could see the government doing what they pay it to do.