Tag Archives: Glenn Greenwald

Is Sunshine Really the Best Disinfectant: Edward Snowden, PRISM, and the NSA

In keeping with the theme from yesterday’s post about Edward Snowden and the leaks about PRISM and the NSA, I thought I’d share something that I was reminded of when I was watching some of the coverage of it earlier this week. Before doing that though, if you haven’t, and regardless of your position on whether he should or shouldn’t have done this, I would urge you to read the article and watch the clip about him in The Guardian.

A couple of days ago I happened to catch a segment of Morning Joe where one of the journalists who broke the story about the NSA, Glenn Greenwald, was on. The clip is about 20 minutes and there’s an interesting exchange between one of the hosts and Greenwald. The part I’d like to highlight today happens towards the end of the segment. I think it was Willie Geist who asked the question and included the phrase, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” in reference to getting the information about these programs out in the open. This reminded me of a paper I wrote for a Public Administration class and I thought it might be useful if I detailed some of the research I used for that paper.

The idea that “sunshine is the best disinfectant” with regard to public administration stems from the idea of government reform. In a 2006 paper in Public Administration Review, Paul C. Light defined four tides of government reform:

All government reform is not created equal. Some reforms seek greater efficiency through the application of scientific principles to organization and management, whereas others seek increased economy through attacks on fraud, waste, and abuse. Some seek improved performance through a focus on outcomes and employee engagement, whereas others seek increased fairness through transparency in government and access to information. Although these four approaches are not inherently contradictory — and can even be found side by side in omnibus statutes such as the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act — they emerge from very different readings of government motivations.

These approaches also offer an ideology for every political taste: scientific management for those who prefer tight chains of command and strong presidential leadership; the war on waste for those who favor coordinated retrenchment and what one inspector general once described as “ the visible odium of deterrence ” ( Light 1993 ); a watchful eye for those who believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant for misbehavior; and liberation management for those who hope to free agencies and their employees from the oppressive rules and oversight embedded in the three other philosophies. [Emphasis Added]

My point in sharing this article wasn’t to say that the idea that sunshine is the best disinfectant is good or bad, but merely to put it in context with some other ways of reforming government. You can decide for yourself which you prefer. In fact, there’s a handy table for differentiating the four:

The Four Tides of Reform

And one more interesting table that shows you how government reform in the US has changed since 1945:

Patterns in Reform Philosophy