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Transparency - key to a good brand

Today's New York Times has an item ("Let the Sun Shine," p. C1) that highlights the importance of transparency in government, and indicates that transparency is currently somewhat lacking. Apparently, a recent study by a private research group at George Washington University found that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests at some agencies have been stalled for 15 years or more. (The article goes on to say that there are two bills afloat that are aimed at remedying the situation, and to detail their status on Capitol Hill.)

I am not advocating one way or the other for the passage of legislation, but just want to note that from a brand perspective the FOIA problem is troubling. For in order to build a good relationship with the public, the agency must build up a relationship of trust with them. And that trust depends on a free flow of information to the greatest extent that is legally possible. After all, government agencies are entrusted by the taxpayer to fulfill many critical missions. Those missions are the "brand promise." Therefore, taxpayers need to know to what extent those missions are being fulfilled--or not.

Now, being honest about possible shortcomings does not necessarily compromise the brand. An agency can theoretically be failing in its mission yet have strong brand equity with the public. The key question is, does the public trust that the agency is doing everything it possibly can, given the resources it has, to fulfill the mission?

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