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The Expanding List of Government Breakdowns

The Obama Administration is on track to set an inglorious record – that for most significant government breakdowns during a two term presidency.

With over a year left in his presidency, the Obama Administration is set to eclipse the previous high mark of government breakdowns that occurred under President George W. Bush, according to research by Paul Light and published by the Volcker Alliance last week.

Paul Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service appeared at an event last week at the National Press Club (video) with former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker to discuss the paper and its findings.

Light’s research examines 48 federal agency breakdowns that occurred since 2000. The paper documents that a combination of flawed policy, insufficient attention to implementation, and inadequate resources are contributing to the growing breakdown in government.


Light and Volcker argued that comprehensive reform for the government is needed now more than ever – including in past instances where the pair had worked together in high profile commissions on the civil service in the late 1980s and the early 2000s – but instead Washington has tinkered around the edges instead of pursuing the tough “nuts and bolts” reform needed to modernize the government and help it meet the growing challenges of the 21st century.

Volcker called for a Presidential debate focused exclusively on issues regarding management of the federal government, saying the public deserved to know, beyond talking points, how candidates would run what amounts to the largest entity in the world in the U.S. government, but acknowledged such a desire was unlikely to be seen.

“This is—or should be—a bipartisan issue,” said Professor Light. “These failures are costing the American public a great deal—not only in terms of dollars lost, lives lost, and young people discouraged from working in government, but in the overall regard that Americans have for our democracy. As the latest Pew survey shows, Americans trust their government less and less, yet it is obvious we must rely on government to keep us safe from terrorism, to respond to natural disasters, and to monitor the safety of our food and cars. It’s time for all of us not just to collectively demand better performance from our federal government but also to do what’s necessary to improve its management.”

The full paper, “Vision + Action = Faithful Execution: Why Government Daydreams and How to Stop the Cascade of Breakdowns That Now Haunts It,” can be accessed here. A video of Light and Volcker discussing the paper can be accessed here

 

 

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