What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us - Ruth Grant writes Wall Street Journal op ed
Thanks to Stormy Daniels, Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo, most of us are now familiar with agreements where one party purchases the other’s silence. But such nondisclosure agreements, also known as NDAs, aren’t limited to allegations of sexual misconduct, and often they involve public money. The agreements regularly undermine the accountability of the powerful and protection for the public. Nondisclosure agreements are more prevalent than you may think. More than one-third of U.S. employees are bound by NDAs of some kind, according to the findings of a 2014 national survey of 11,500 labor-force participants by researchers at the universities of Michigan and Maryland. That means there’s a good chance your own employee contract may forbid you from disclosing certain kinds of information about your employer.
In the public sphere, there’s a double issue: NDAs can cost American taxpayers money, while preventing us from knowing what kind of silence the dollars are buying and whether it is against the public interest. Nevertheless, since 1997, the Congressional Office of Compliance says it has paid $17 million to settle all sorts of workplace disputes in Congress itself, allowing NDAs to be included in the final settlements. That figure doesn’t include agreements such as those made by Reps. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania and John Conyers of Michigan, each of whom resigned in recent months after it came to light that they had paid settlements from their office funds to women who accused them of sexual harassment. Both men denied the harassment.