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Friday, August 24, 2007

Transparent Equality

A few years back, the United States federal legislation passed a new law requiring certain transparency actions by major U.S. corporations. The nonprofit industry has since worked to apply the same standards to their operations to assure the American public as to their legitimacy and donation worthiness. While I commend them for their efforts at honesty and accountability to the American people, there is still an industry that refuses to apply these standards. That industry is the government itself.

The U.S. government (and most state, county and municipal governments) frequently operates behind a veil of misinformation and secrecy. Many times, laws and budgets passed for the good of America are unofficially ignored, adding to the lack of accountability.

An example is in order, I think.

A few years back, the United States was awe-struck as we watched the first test flight of the Delta Clipper, a prototype of a completely reusable space launch vehicle. Congress was so impressed that they passed budgeting for the Department of Defense (the Delta Clipper was designed under a 'Star Wars' development program) to build a full-scale Delta Clipper for testing and, if proven viable, for full production of a series of them. It was hoped that the Delta Clipper would replace our aging space shuttle fleet and secure the future of the American space exploration efforts. The problem was, the man in charge of releasing the funds to the program for its continuation didn't like the program and refused to release the funds, even after Congress approved it. Effectively, ONE MAN killed the Delta Clipper and continues to let his personal opinions and attitudes guide his actions instead of honoring the will of the American people. The only way he was willing to allow the funds to be released was if the Delta Clipper was taken into the 'black world' of secret government developments. Doing this effectively took the potential use of the Delta Clipper away from NASA forever, locking it into a 'military use only' blackhole.

This reflects an arrogant idealism that the American people cannot intelligently decide what technologies should be developed and, once developed, how they should be used. The idea of the Delta Clipper, if I remember correctly, was originally a CIVILIAN idea that was supposed to use a new design engine called a Star Spike that would improve the efficiency of space travel dramatically. It was also supposed to bring the cost of space travel down to less that one-tenth its current cost. Yet this tremendous potential was buried under the mountain of governmental/military secrecy. When might it return? Perhaps it will, perhaps it won't. It has become another secret program, funded by the American people without us ever knowing where the money is going or what progress is being made on the project.

How does this apply to nonprofit organizations? Simple.

The activities of nonprofit organizations are subject to public review at any time, by any member of the public. The annual 990 report to the IRS details what money was received by the organization, what taxes (if any) were paid, progress made on the organization's projects, how much money key personnel have been paid, it is like an on-going autopsy of the organization. Nonprofit organizations are not allowed to hide projects from the public in any way shape or form, nor do we feel our government should be hiding things. If they are sensitive enough or dangerous enough, one must ask, should we be involved in this activity at all. But once a project is shoved into the 'black world' it usually never sees the light of public scrutiny again ... EVER!

Billions of U.S. taxes are poured into the black world every year, without accountability in any tangible form. This is fundamentally wrong. To me, every project should be submitted to the government in the same way that a nonprofit project is, fully detailed in what it is to address, how it will address it, and how we will know if it is effective or not, thus knowing if the project is worthy of continued funding.

I've said my piece ... now it is your turn.

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