Remarks by John S. Irons (Senior Policy Analyst, and Economist, OMB Watch)
Prepared for the Visit of the Delegation from the Ho Chi Minh National Political Academy (Vietnam) to Temple University
Wednesday, April 22, 2004
It is a pleasure to be here today. I hope I can give you a small taste of the kinds of work that citizen advocacy groups pursue here in the US. Rather than trying to summarize all the kinds of work undertaken by thousands of organizations, I thought it would be more useful to describe my organization in more detail. While each organization is unique and might focus on different policy areas, or take different tactics towards policy change, we often share a similar approach to policy advocacy.
My organization, OMB Watch, is an independent, non-governmental, nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote government accountability and citizen participation.
We believe that a responsive and responsible government must be accountable to the people and must operate in the open. Sound governmental and economic policy, as well as good decision-making, critically depends upon the public’s right to know what the government is doing; and it is important for citizens to provide input on policy choices and to hold their government accountable for their actions.
My organization is devoted to monitoring the activities of the federal government, including the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), other governmental agencies, and throughout the legislative process in Congress.
OMB Watch was formed 20 years ago to lift the veil of secrecy shrouding the powerful White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – an agency which oversees much of the executive branch of government and which therefore has a large amount of power to affect the implementation of policy. We receive the vast majority of our funding from grants from private foundations, with private donations from individuals making up most of the rest – we do not receive funding from the government.
The organization’s mission centers on four main areas: regulatory policy; public access to government information; participation in the policy making process by nonprofit organizations; and the federal budget. We are primarily focused on domestic federal policy.
On the regulatory side, we work to monitor the federal government’s rulemaking process, and regulations, especially in the area of the environment. We believe that the government plays an important role in establishing sensible safeguards and protections for workers and the public.
In the area of public access to government, we operate a website called “RTK Net” which provides Internet access to government databases on the environment – the data allows citizens to assess the impact of factories on their local environmental conditions. We also chair an anti-secrecy coalition – made up of nonprofits, journalists, and others – which seeks to advance the public’s right to know and to reduce secrecy in government.
We also believe that an important means for citizen participation is through nonprofit organizations. As a result we also follow issues and policy that would affect the ability of nonprofits to be engaged in policy advocacy. We work to encourage organizations to be more engaged in the policymaking process, and to speak out on matters of importance to them.
As an economist, my work primarily involves the federal budget – both tax policy as well as government expenditures. This includes 1) policy research and analysis, 2) dissemination of government budget information, including explanations of the complexities of the government’s budget, as well as the implications of tax and budget decisions, and 3) organizing other non-profit organizations to effectively speak out on tax and budget issues. We believe that the federal government has a unique, important, and necessary role in society, and work to ensure that the government works in the best interest of all its citizens.
The success of our system of government requires that government operate in the open in order to be responsive to the public, to foster trust and confidence in government, and to encourage public participation in civic and government institutions.
We hope that our (small) organization makes a difference in keeping the government as open as possible, educates others about the importance of citizen participation, and contributes to a healthy and vibrant society.