This week I’ve been spending some time with the folks from the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity (along with a number of other writers) at a blogger conference they hosted. The theme was “The Tax & Regulatory Impact on Industry, Jobs & The Economy, and Consumers,” and it’s included a number of enlightening discussions on the real world impacts of excessive, redundant and intrusive government regulations on not only businesses, but citizens everywhere. (One example, provided by representatives of the AT&T Innovation center, is that American businesses spend 10.36 billion hours each year filling out government regulation compliance paperwork. The numbers are staggering.)
A different topic, however, was brought up by a featured speaker at dinner last night. The group was addressed by former Franklin Center associate Bill McMorris, now with the Washington Free Beacon. (The Beacon was the outfit that originally broke the Hillary Papers story earlier this month.) In an age when it seems like everyone and their chipmunk has a blog, Bill spoke about why the work of bloggers is still important, and how some of them continue to make a difference. The real opportunity, as McMorris sees it, is driven by the practices of the government in the modern era and the budget restrictions facing conventional mainstream media outlets.
You see, rather than attempting to hide things from the public, the government at all levels (including the Obama administration) has taken the idea of transparency to an entirely new level, releasing such a flood of documentation and information all across the spectrum that nobody could possibly sort through it all. In terms of keeping the public informed, think of it as death by a thousand documents. Newspapers and cable media entities simply don’t have the staff required to dig through that much material on everything from budget numbers to job postings, purchase orders and more. But, as Bill explained, an army of bloggers (or one blogger willing to put in the hours and elbow grease) can comb through the mountains of data they release on government web sites. By putting in Freedom of Information Act requests on seemingly mundane budget subjects, bloggers can uncover even more if they have the time and gumption.
He related several stories of how smaller, state level political bloggers had found all manner of government malfeasance which was later picked up by the networks. (Occasionally even giving credit to the original finder.) It seems like such a simple thing at first glance, but the truth of it is startling. The government has chosen to live by the rules we’ve put in place regarding transparency and public information (in most cases, anyway), but attempt to avoid exposure by drowning us in a torrent of mind numbing forms, reports and logs. Frequently hidden inside of them, though, are nuggets of gold which can allow any blogger to make their mark and bring the activities of their elected representatives to light. It’s something to think about as we approach the next round of elections.