Even as the federal government moves to implement the massive health care “reform” President Obama signed into law earlier this year, and as the Census Bureau nears completion of the 2010 census, citizens’ trust in government’s ability to safeguard the privacy of the information it collects on them, remains at a distressingly low level. The lack of trust Americans have in the federal government is graphically illustrated in two surveys this year conducted by the non-partisan Ponemon Institute, headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan.
The Institute’s signature survey is the annual “Privacy Trust Study of the United States Government.” This year’s study, released June 30th, surveyed more than 9,000 adults across the country, and asked their views on the trustworthiness of some 75 federal agencies. The results should – but probably won’t – concern the administration and the heads of many well-known government offices.
As in prior years, the Postal Service continues its reign as the most trusted agency of the federal government; earning an 87% favorable rating in terms of people’s view of how well it safeguards the privacy of information and materials entrusted to it. Reflecting the fact that the study gauges not the degree to which those surveyed like various government agencies, but rather how much they trust them to safeguard their information, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sits in the top tier of most-trusted agencies – coming in at 71%.
For other federal agencies, including many for which the public’s trust is central to their core mission, the 2010 trust-in-government survey brings distressing news. While the Department of Justice does not scrape the bottom of the trust barrel, it enjoys a painfully low level of trust by the very public it is supposed to be protecting. The Department dropped nine points from its already low 2009 ranking, and now enjoys the trust of barely more than one-fifth of the American people (21%, to be precise). Occupying the dubious honor of the least-trusted federal agency, and tumbling from 26% last year to 16% in 2010, is Customs and Border Protection. Given the high level of attention focused this election year on immigration policies and problems, one would not expect this agency to move up the trust ladder in next year’s survey.
The agency suffering the most precipitous drop in trust is the Census Bureau; careening from 78% in 2009 to 39% this year, as it conducts its decennial census.
The National Security Agency (NSA) is trusted by a mere 20% of the public according to Ponemon. While low, this figure is perhaps a surprisingly high percentage, given that the NSA has been much in the news recently for its increasing tendency to snoop on American citizens inside their own country. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the CIA all are clustered in the same segment as NSA and the Justice Department – being trusted by less than one-fourth of the American people.
The results of an earlier Ponemon study — “Americans’ Opinions about Healthcare Privacy,” issued at the end of January — illustrates why a majority of the American people continue to oppose Obama’s signature legislative victory – the 2,406-page health care “reform” bill. Even as the new law calls for a vast expansion of the role to be played by the federal government in defining, delivering and paying for medical care, Americans by a nearly three-to-one majority do not trust Uncle Sam, and specifically the Department of Health and Human Services, to protect the privacy of their medical records.
Cynics might conclude that for agencies that should be among the most trusted of entities but are not, these poor performers perhaps should be placed under the authority of the United States Postal Service. Or, at least that President Obama should spend less time expanding the size and power of the government, and more time improving the quality and trustworthiness of it. Americans may trust God, but not government.