Biden needs a government-wide audit to find every ounce of Trump administration mismanagement and corruption. Unity hinges on transparency and trust.
For four years, the institutions meant to safeguard our democracy have come under a relentless assault from within, leaving our government vulnerable to corruption. We have seen a systemic and successful effort by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans to strip away these safeguards. Of the many challenges the incoming Biden administration must confront, the restoration of checks and balances is the most vital if we are to continue on as a united and functioning republic.
It’s easy in the midst of a pandemic to lose sight of things like whistleblowers, inspectors general, U.S. attorneys, and congressional oversight and independence. But they are all linchpins of a healthy democracy. It’s no surprise or accident that under the Trump presidency, these guardians of government have been eviscerated.
Trump’s rise was fueled in part by a belief among disaffected and jaded Americans that the federal government could not be trusted. That the hidden hand of bureaucracy was working against the interests of everyday Americans. In his campaign for the presidency, he created an “us vs. them” chorus united behind the chant of “drain the swamp.” The theme of a “deep state” within the federal workforce, actively working to undermine the American people, is a reoccurring narrative Trump has advanced on many occasions.
A checks and balances wrecking ball
President-elect Joe Biden has made unity a central tenet of his governing philosophy. In order to have unity, we have to have trust. In order to have trust, we have to have transparency. Right or wrong, the American people have bought into the narrative that there is much to distrust about government. Until that divide is repaired, unity is all but impossible to achieve.
The federal government is in desperate need of sunlight.
President-elect Joe Biden on Nov. 17, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Trump has been a one-man wrecking ball for checks and balances. As president, he has viciously attacked and retaliated against government whistleblowers. During a six-week period earlier this year, he fired the inspectors general for the Intelligence Community, the Defense Department, the Transportation Department, the State Department, and the Department of Health and Human Services. In June, Trump fired the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was actively investigating people close to him.
In recent days, Trump has embarked on a massive purge across the military, intelligence and national security agencies, seeking to dismiss officials he deems as disloyal. On Wednesday he fired Chris Krebs, head of the agency tasked with keeping our elections secure from cyberattacks. Throughout his entire presidency, Trump has refused to comply with legally issued subpoenas from Congress — making the stonewalling of Congress a routine affair.
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All of this amounts to a singular and dangerous picture of one branch of government operating completely unchecked. Is it really so surprising that as the institutions meant to inject balance into our governing structures have failed, we have reached a moment where one political party refuses to accept the results of a legitimate election?
President-elect Biden needs to put forward an ambitious plan to restore accountability to government. This plan should include strengthening whistleblower protections, enhancing inspectors general independence, reinstating officials who were removed from their posts via acts of retaliation, and passing new legislation that gives Congress tools to enforce oversight in real time.
Biden needs to expose what has been going on
Furthermore, the Biden administration should conduct a government-wide audit that exposes every ounce of waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement and corruption that has transpired throughout the past four years. If the White House was downplaying the consequences of hurricanes and tropical storms and threatening scientists, that needs to be exposed. If an agency administrator had a too-cozy relationship with lobbyists, that needs to be exposed. If COVID relief dollars were being steered to political donors, that needs to be exposed. If a Cabinet secretary refuses a court order to stop illegally seizing the wages of college students, that needs to be exposed.
Of course, these are all scandals we know about, but imagine the totality of what has happened during these last four years that we don’t know about. The first step to repairing the damage Trump has inflicted on American institutions is showing the American people they can have reason to trust in those institutions once again. That means exposing wrongdoing and putting safeguards in place to ensure that corruption cannot be repeated.
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After all, it was the Republican House Oversight Committee that crafted a mission statement declaring: “Americans have a right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent. And second, Americans deserve an efficient, effective government that works for them … Our solemn responsibility is to hold government accountable to the taxpayers because taxpayers have a right to know what they get from their government.”
President-elect Biden should give Republicans a double dose of their own sunlight.
Kurt Bardella, a member of USA Today’s Board of Contributors and a senior adviser for The Lincoln Project, was the spokesperson and senior adviser for House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Republicans from 2009-2013. Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella
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