Op/Ed: Time to boost accountability and transparency for Congress

By Ryan Costello, Chester County Commissioner


Ryan Costello

The gridlock and partisan rancor in Congress is taking its toll on the public’s perception of Congress, and rightfully so.  According to a recent Gallup poll, only 14 percent of Americans think Congress is doing a good job.  That puts the public’s approval of the job Congress is doing at one of its lowest points in history.

As a member of Chester County’s Board of Commissioners, I have made it a point to work with both my Democrat and Republican colleagues in a bipartisan manner on issues such as developing fiscally responsible budgets, protecting open space, and making sure priorities such as our local libraries and emergency response system are properly funded.

That’s the way I believe government should work.  But right now, it’s not the way Congress or Washington works.  Too often, it seems like elected officials are more interested in scoring political points than working to find areas of commonality and agreement.  That’s not good government.  And in my view, it is harmful to the economic and social health of the country. 

Part of the reason why I am running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 6th District is to help find common ground and move our country in a positive direction. So the question is, how do we restore the public’s confidence in Congress?  In my opinion, we need to start with reforms focused on increasing accountability and transparency.

One of the most basic responsibilities of Congress is passing an annual budget that funds the federal government. Every family sits down at the kitchen table every month and makes a budget, but Congress has never passed an on time budget since President Obama took office. As a County Commissioner, our budgeting process involves quarterly reports at public meetings from our finance department, budget guidelines and meetings with our department heads regarding revenue and expense projections, and presentation and discussion of our budget at public meetings.

That is why I support a reform known as the “No Budget, No Pay Act.”  This legislation would cut off pay to Members of Congress if they fail to pass an annual budget on time each year.  If they don’t accomplish this basic task, Members of Congress don’t get paid until they do.  By holding Congress accountable, we can incentivize members of both parties to work together on budget issues and reach compromise on their differences.

At the same time, we need to increase transparency in Congress. In the age of smartphones and tablets, there are still far too many government documents that are not available online for public review in a timely manner or in a reader friendly format.  This includes a significant number of Congressional documents.

To start, reports and analysis by the Library of Congress on legislation, federal programs, and regulations should be published online for public review.  Transparency increases accountability, which leads to good government.

We also need to reevaluate the way congressional district boundaries are set. Far too often, districts are gerrymandered in ways that create either very conservative or very liberal districts. These types of districts tend to make some Members of Congress vote and act in a more partisan manner to avoid a primary challenge from within their own party.  That in turn reduces the number of elected officials willing to work in a bipartisan fashion to build consensus. When possible, congressional districts should be as geographically condensed as possible.

These are just a few of my ideas on how we can restore public confidence in Congress through increased accountability and transparency.  My hope is to start a broader discussion about Congressional reform, and encourage others to share their ideas so that we can restore public confidence that we have a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Ryan Costello is Chairman of the Chester County Board of Commissioners and the Republican candidate for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, which includes portions of Chester, Montgomery, Berks, and Lebanon Counties. Visit www.ryancostelloforcongress.com for more information.

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