Every day, decisions are made in Washington that impact families and communities in Iowa and across the country. But too often, these decisions are made in the dark.
It’s vitally important that hardworking taxpayers have access to information, like how their money is being spent or resources are being wasted, so they have the power to hold decision makers accountable. A transparent government is one of the most fundamental principles that makes our government – of the people, by the people, and for the people – work.
As we recognize Sunshine Week, an annual celebration all about transparency, I’ve put forward a number of initiatives to increase transparency and ensure Iowans have access to information about their government. Increasing transparency increases accountability—and we all benefit when information is brought to light, especially when it involves how our tax dollars are being spent.
Since day one, President Biden has taken action to target biofuel and fossil fuels—energy sources that Iowans rely on to get to work, run their businesses, and to make a living. At the same time, his administration—including “Climate Czar” John Kerry—continues to rely on these fossil fuels to travel. This is coastal elitism and hypocrisy at its worst.
If the Biden Administration is going to limit Iowans’ access to affordable and reliable fuels, kill thousands of American jobs, and implement heavy-handed energy regulations paid for by hardworking Iowans, taxpayers have a right to know about their blatant hypocrisy. That’s why I have a straightforward bill that requires the executive branch to track and publicly release the amount of carbon emissions associated with all fossil-fuel powered travel.
I’m also working to shed light on years of bureaucrats ignoring federal transparency requirements. Every year, Congress renews a law that requires all projects supported by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to include a price tag disclosing the cost paid by taxpayers. Unfortunately, it’s become clear that recipients of funds from the department are not complying with this law. This includes a U.S. taxpayer funded study at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. The amount of U.S. tax dollars used to fund this research was not disclosed to the public, and HHS was failing to comply with the law. So I’ve called on the HHS Office of Inspector General to investigate and get to the bottom of this. I also reintroduced my bill, the Cost Openness and Spending Transparency (COST) Act, which requires every project supported with federal funds to include a price tag with its cost to taxpayers.
During this pandemic, Congress has approved hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money that is going to the Department of Education. Sadly, bureaucrats in school districts across the country continue to put partisan political interests ahead of the well-being of our kids, and many schools remain closed. So, this week, I called for a report card on the reopening status of schools. The bill would require the Department of Education to publish information on the use of COVID relief dollars and a school’s operating status. While Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has led the way in safely reopening our schools and offering an in-person learning option for Iowa students, hardworking taxpayers across the country deserve to know whether or not their dollars are helping get kids back safely in the classroom.
The federal government gets away with spending billions of dollars on projects that have ballooning budgets and delayed deadlines, and the worst part: taxpayers don’t even know because the cost and timeline of these projects are hidden. This week my bipartisan bill, which requires full public disclosure of the cost and timeline of taxpayer-funded projects billions over budget and behind schedule, passed unanimously out of a Senate committee. That means it had bipartisan support, something we don’t hear enough about these days. Now, I’m going to work to get it across the finish line and signed into law.
During Sunshine Week, and every week, Iowans can be sure I’m going to continue to shine a light on the decisions being made in Washington that affect all Iowans. The only reason to keep taxpayers in the dark about any of these decisions is because they can’t withstand the scrutiny that results when all of the facts come to light.
After all, sunshine is the best disinfectant, because to stop waste, we first need to be able to spot it.
Joni Ernst, a native of Red Oak and a combat veteran, represents Iowa in the United States Senate.