Susan Combs

We see it in the headlines. The IRS conducting extraordinarily intrusive exams on targeted taxpayer groups. The DOJ accessing phone records and emails of journalists and family members. The NSA gathering data on our phone calls, emails, online browsing history, chats and more.

Information was gathered, not obviously to make the government smarter in the delivery of services or citizens safer in the battle against terrorism, but to build political power and seemingly silence dissent.

We have been here before. The costs to break the bonds of British tyranny were great. But our founders understood that liberty and prosperity flourish only when power flows from the many, from the people. That government is the servant, not the master. That government must be accountable, and citizens informed.

Here in Texas, as the state’s chief financial officer, I’ve been worrying about debt, believing the obscene levels of federal debt we are burdening our children and theirs with, is the greatest threat to our country. Improving transparency when it comes to state and local debt has been my primary focus. I have been fighting to ensure government spending at all levels is transparent to taxpayers so our citizens are better informed and, with that knowledge, hopefully more engaged. And Texas continues to lead in transparency, earning an “A” from consumer advocates U.S. Public Interest Research Group for our online disclosure of every dollar spent by the state.

But that focus on debt transparency is perhaps too narrow.

The problem is so much more pervasive: The lack of transparency at all levels of government is truly the enemy within.

Why can’t we find out what actually happened in Benghazi? Could we have saved the lives of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, Glenn Doherty, Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods, American citizens attacked on the sovereign soil of our embassy there? It does matter for the next ambassador in harm’s way.

Who gave the directive at the IRS to treat Tea Party groups like suspected criminals, placing them on a “be on the lookout” list?

Is the DOJ trying to silence whistleblowers and journalists who dare ask questions?

What information about us is the NSA collecting without a warrant and how are they using it? And how long are they keeping it?

These questions and more have not been answered.

A cloak of secrecy shrouds the federal government. The bureaucratic state is now a fourth branch of government. It is all-powerful yet unelected and unaccountable.

The federal government seems intent on vacuuming information up on us, but not so forthcoming in sharing information about its operation.

As an example, the EPA is accused of charging conservatives for access to information while waiving fees for friendly progressive groups. Adding insult to injury, the EPA more egregiously is accused of disclosing the personal contact information of farmers to environmental groups. And now we learn that President Barack Obama will use the strong arm of the EPA to penalize American energy producers through regulatory fiat.

This administration has dealt a body blow to America’s confidence. Our hope has been betrayed, our faith diminished.

As the mother of a U.S. Marine, a fourth-generation rancher, a servant of the people of Texas and a proud citizen of this great nation, I do believe in America. The America of our forefathers.

And I know we can do better.

Information is power. And the control of both can be easily abused – intentionally or not.

If there is nothing to hide, transparency need not be feared.


Susan Combs

SUSAN COMBS is Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.