Mary W. Graham
Author and Researcher
American presidents have used secrecy to protect the nation but also to hid their blunders, illnesses, controversial plans, and unethical behavior. Presidents’ Secrets tracks the rise of government secrecy that began with surveillance and loyalty programs during Woodrow Wilson’s administration, flourished during the Cold War, was reigned in during the 1970s, and continues to grow from abuse and neglect.
Full Disclosure examines 15 targeted transparency policies in United States and three international policies to assess their effectiveness and sustainability. Because such policies are always political compromises, they can offer incomplete, incomprehensible, or irrelevant information to consumers, workers, investors, and community residents. Domestic policies are aimed at informing the public about healthy food, auto safety, drinking water contamination, toxic pollution, hospital safety, and workplace health and safety. International policies include corporate financial disclosure, data about infectious disease outbreaks, and the labeling of genetically modified foods.
Disclosure systems have become mainstream policy in the United States. At best, they represent a light-handed form of regulation that preserves individual choices and corporate discretion while serving the public interest in increased health, safety, environmental protection, and effective investing. Government by disclosure represents a third wave of modern risk regulation. But disclosure can also be counter-productive. Political compromises can leave information distorted, incomplete, or misunderstood.
After a generation of progress in reducing large sources of industrial and government pollution and improving the management of public lands, new political challenges involve controlling pollution caused by farmers, small businesses, drivers of aging cars, and homeowners, as well as reducing ecological threats on private land. Remedies often lie in politically treacherous territory – persuading ordinary people to change their daily routines.