What Americans Want From Government Reform

Thursday, December 15, 2016
Paul C. Light

In this issue paper, Paul C. Light, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service and special adviser to the chairman at the Volcker Alliance, released new research revealing a surge in the percentage of Americans who think that government needs major reform. The analysis, which the Volcker Alliance helped to finance, also found broad cynicism about government performance across the political spectrum.

Based on data from eight public opinion surveys conducted between 1997 and 2016, Dr. Light shows that the percentage of Americans who favor smaller government and very major reform increased from 17 percent in 1997 to 43 percent in August 2016, while the percentage of Americans who favor bigger government and only some reform dropped from 43 percent in 1997 to 20 percent in 2016, and the percentage who favor bigger government and very major reform increased from 16 percent in 1997 to 25 percent in 2016.

Dr. Light calls for a slate of reforms of the federal government that data suggest would draw bipartisan support. These reforms, which would extend beyond the agenda of the Volcker Alliance, include: electoral reform to reduce the influence of money in elections; ethics reform to address conflicts of interest for elected officials; a concerted reduction in waste and inefficiency in government operations; a bipartisan national commission to overhaul government systems and the government workforce; and a stronger personnel system.