Public trust is a precious commodity. When government seems indifferent to its mandate, or fails to meet it, the public loses faith. And, in spite all of the good that government does, there have been some significant failures. Scot Lehigh’s May 7 op-ed column about public sector agencies missing these basic obligations in policy and procedure (“Public sector must get the basics right”) speaks directly to this problem.
The key to building and maintaining public trust is to invest in accountability.
Accountability means more than just accepting responsibility when things go wrong. It needs to be an active, front-end function within government. Better training, oversight, and technology improve accountability. But to really attain it, we must instill it as a value.
To achieve this, difficult choices sometimes must be made, and officials must say no to even the most worthy causes when their cost strains our capacity to ensure accountability. This is no easy task, given the needs of our fellow citizens.
It also means that sometimes the public has to be willing to accept no as a legitimate response to a demand for expanded services or new programs. Legislators alone cannot bear the burden of establishing accountability as a priority. After all, the votes they cast reflect the demands of their constituents.
The idea that oversight funding has to accompany program spending is one that everyone has to accept and advance.
If we all embrace the notion of accountability as an investment in our Commonwealth, it would be a major step forward in building public trust.