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Closing the Books: How Government Contractors Hide Public Records

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Government transparency strengthens democracy, promotes fiscal responsibility, checks corruption, and bolsters public confidence. Sunshine laws enshrine transparency into the fabric of government by guaranteeing citizens access to information regarding government expenditures and policies.

When government contractors assume control of public services, in many cases they are able to circumvent sunshine laws and shield important information from disclosure. Corporations may refuse to release records that would otherwise be available by claiming that transparency would hurt their bottom lines. Many times, contractors claim that the information is a “trade secret” or “proprietary” and legally protected from public review.

This brief provides case studies that illustrate how private contractors hide three key types of information: (1) the fees they charge the public, (2) how they spend public funds, and (3) details on the quality of public services.

To protect the public’s right-to-information, decision makers should adopt strong sunshine laws that require government contractors to follow the same disclosure rules as government entities. As an additional protection, state and local governments should also include disclosure requirements in contracts