What possible interest could we the public have in how the unelected Sir Gus, or his unaccountable office, spends £710 billion of our money for us this year?
The Freedom of Information act is a mistake, and is having a negative effect on governing, Britain's top civil servant said. Sir Gus O'Donnell told the Commons public administration select committee that it had stymied full and frank discussion of options by ministers and others in government. The 2001 act gives members of the public and journalists the right to ask for publication of official documents.
"The problem is, virtually everything [in such documents] is subject to a public interest test. If asked to give advice, I'd say I can't guarantee they can say without fear or favour if they disagree with something, and that information will remain private. Because there could be an FoI request.
"It's having a very negative impact on the freedom of policy discussions."
Whitehall often claim, as here in front of the Public Administration Select Committee, that they couldn't do their job properly if they had to operate in the open. They couldn't serve the public interest.
Whitehall do not operate in the open at the moment. Their deliberations go largely unreported. And yet, despite the putative benefit of this secrecy, when their performance is reported, mostly by the National Audit Office, after the event, all too often, it transpires that Whitehall aren't doing their job properly.
It transpires that, too often, Whitehall has become an irresponsible and unbusinesslike and undignified machine for transferring public money to a small group of management consultants, contractors and PFI financiers, against the public interest.
Pace Sir Gus, secrecy is not working. Sir Gus is wrong. The smug technocrat's insider view that Whitehall is currently doing a good job is untenable, mendacious, self-deception. Looking in from the outside, Whitehall seems regularly to be guilty of misfeasance in public office.
Openness might be part of the answer. Openness might help Whitehall to do its job properly. Openness might be in the public interest.