Vision + Action = Faithful Execution

Why Government Daydreams and How to Stop the Cascade of Breakdowns that Now Haunts It
Friday, December 11, 2015
The Volcker Alliance

In this issue paper, Paul C. Light, Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service and a special adviser to the chairman of the Volcker Alliance, demonstrates that the number of federal government agency breakdowns has steadily increased over the past 30 years.

Professor Light’s research documents 48 federal agency breakdowns since 2000, ranging from failing to “connect the dots” in identifying the threat of the terrorist attacks of September 11th to the collapse of an interstate-highway bridge in Minnesota to the botched launch of healthcare.gov. The paper addresses four questions about these breakdowns: (1) Where did government break? (2) Why did government break? (3) What caused each breakdown? And (4) What can be done to redress the underlying causes? His analysis reveals that flawed policy and inadequate resources were accompanied by deficiencies in culture, structure, and leadership.

Drawing on the conclusions of two prior National Commissions of the Public Service led by Paul A. Volcker for which Professor Light served as an adviser, he suggests that the reform agenda must include “comprehensive proposals for repairing the federal bureaucracy; thinning its needless layers; attacking its excessive duplication and overlap; and combining policy and implementation in the nation’s leading schools of public policy and administration, its legislative committees, and the Oval Office.”

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