Are we too worried about embarrassing the minister? Relaxing about ‘sensitive’ information can strengthen government
By Craig Dalton on Monday, January 13th, 2020
Features in QESP NewsletterVolume 32 , Issue 01 - ISSN 1325-2070
Many of the issues that consume legions of public servants and media management time would be a non-event in the US, argues Craig Dalton.
Shortly after returning from the US to work in a state government agency, I received a bureaucratic culture shock. As a director of a public health unit, I was preparing to release information on childhood lead exposure. It was considered “sensitive”. About 6pm on the eve of the release, I received an enraged telephone call from the head of another agency. He was appalled at the level of transparency and openness with which I was approaching the release of information. He said the information was going to embarrass the government and that my primary job was “to protect the minister”. This sounded so bizarre that I laughed, which didn’t make matters better.
It sounded bizarre because I had spent the prior three years working for state and federal governments in the US, which has quite a distinct separation between politics and the bureaucracy. There was no sense of protecting the secretary of health (politically equivalent to a minister of health), and at times, departmental heads would publicly but politely and respectfully be in disagreement with the secretary.