Category Archives: Government

A Cascade of Failures: Why Government Fails, and How to Stop It

Source: Paul C. Light, Brooking Institution, Strengthening American Democracy, Number 93 of 94, July 2014

From the summary:
In this research paper, Paul C. Light writes that the “first step in preventing future failures is to find a reasonable set of past failures that might yield lessons for repair.” To meet this goal, Light asks four key questions about past federal government failures: (1) where did government fail, (2) why did government fail, (3) who caused the failures, and (4) what can be done to fix the underlying problems?…

….The cascade of failures described in this paper parallels other trends over the past three decades, including the steady aging of the federal government’s infrastructure and workforce; growing dependence on contractors; ever-thickening hierarchy; dwindling funds, staffing, and collateral capacity, such as information technology and accounting systems; increasing frustration with poorly drafted policy; presidential disengagement; and political posturing. These trends help explain much of the cascade, although it remains to be seen what might have sparked the patterns in the first place. It could be that bureaucracies are inherently vulnerable to failure regardless of funding, hierarchy, dependencies, and public angst toward big organizations of any kind. It could also be that the cascade reflects errors of omission and commission by Congress and the president, and the flood of what Alexander Hamilton called the “deadly adversaries” of government: cabal, intrigue, and corruption. ….

Our Hidden Industrial Policy – A review of The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths

Source: Mike Sharpe, Challenge, Volume 57 No. 3 May-June 2014
(subscription required)

If you’re somewhat hazy about the basic scientific research done by the U.S. government, you’re not alone. The best remedy is to read The Entrepreneurial State. …. Mariana Mazzucato delivers several messages. The state vs. the market is a myth. The private market cannot exist without the institutional framework that the modern state provides. ….

Assessing the Impact of the Size and Scope of Government on Human Well-Being

Source: Patrick Flavin, Alexander C. Pacek, Benjamin Radcliff, Social Forces, Volume 92, Issue 4, June 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
We examine how public policies affect life satisfaction across the industrial democracies. We consider as indicators of policy overall levels of government spending, the size and generosity of the welfare state, and the degree of labor market regulation. Using individual- and aggregate-level data for OECD countries from 1981 to 2007, we find robust evidence that citizens find life more satisfying as the degree of government intervention in the economy increases. We find, further, that this result is inelastic to changes in income; that is, high- and low-income citizens appear to find more “leftist” social policies equally conducive to their subjective well-being. We conclude with a discussion of the practical and theoretical implications of the results.

Government Size, Nonprofit Sector Strength, and Corruption A Cross-National Examination

Source: Nuno S. Themudo, American Review of Public Administration, Vol. 44 no. 3, May 2014

From the abstract:
Government should serve the public good. Yet critics argue that “big government” is a major cause of corruption. This article assesses the empirical validity of their argument through cross-national statistical analysis, addressing two of previous research’s key weaknesses: lack of controls for potential reverse causation and for the likely confounding impact of nonprofit sector size. Contrary to critics’ claims, the analysis presented here finds no evidence that a larger government generally contributes to higher corruption. Instead, both government and nonprofit sector size generally have an inverse relationship with the level of corruption. To combat corruption, therefore, public administrators should be skeptical of recommendations for sweeping government cuts and should instead consider policies that strengthen the public and the nonprofit sectors.

Rebuilding and Re-Engaging a Battered Public Sector Workforce

Source: John M. Palguta Public Manager, Vol. 43 no 1, Spring 2014
(subscription required)

Public sector workers in many jurisdictions have been battered during the past few years by growing workloads, shrinking resources, anti-government rhetoric, and – not surprisingly – declines in employee satisfaction and commitment accompanied by increased turnover of key talent. … Why does it matter? because of the large body of research that consistently shows a strong and positive correlation between employee engagement and organizational performance…..

2012 Census of Governments: Employment Summary Report

Source: Lisa Jessie and Mary Tarleton, U.S. Census Bureau, Governments Division Briefs, G12-CG-E, March 6, 2014

From the press release:
There were 22.0 million total federal, state and local government employees in the U.S. in March 2012 (including part-time employees), down 115,733 or 0.5 percent from March 2011, according to a report released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. The number of federal government employees declined 2.2 percent from 2011 to 2.8 million in 2012, and the number of state government employees declined 0.5 percent from 2011 to 5.3 million in 2012. There were 14.0 million local government employees in 2012, which is not a statistically significant change from 2011.

These numbers come from the 2012 Census of Governments: Employment data, which provides a comprehensive look at the employment of the nation’s more than 90,000 state and local governments, as well as the federal government. The Census of Governments: Employment and its counterpart (the Annual Survey of Public Employment & Payroll) are the only data sources that specify employment by government function for state and local governments; some of these functions include transit, solid waste management and parks and recreation. It shows the number of government civilian employees and their gross payrolls by government function for the month of March.
State and Local Government Employees

In March 2012, there were 16.2 million full-time equivalent employees working for state and local governments in the U.S. Full-time equivalent is equal to the number of full-time employees added to the number of hours worked by part-time employees divided by the standard number of hours for a full-time employee (which varies from government to government). The majority of these state and local government full-time equivalent employees (8.8 million) worked in education, followed by those working in hospitals (1.0 million), and police protection (0.9 million)

Looking back to the previous census, the number of full-time equivalent state and local government employees decreased 1.3 percent from the 2007 Census of Governments to 16.2 million in the 2012 Census of Governments. According to statistics released today, 26 states and the District of Columbia experienced declines in the number of state and local government full-time equivalent employees since the 2007 Census of Governments, with 24 states experiencing increases from 2007.

Michigan had the largest percentage decline in state and local government full-time equivalent employment between 2007 and 2012 (8.9 percent), followed by Rhode Island (8.4 percent), New Mexico (7.4 percent) and Nevada (6.5 percent). Conversely, Utah had the largest increase (8.8 percent), followed by North Dakota (7.7 percent), Wyoming (7.2 percent) and Alaska (6.5 percent).

How Johnson Fought the War on Poverty: The Economics and Politics of Funding at the Office of Economic Opportunity

Source: Martha J. Bailey, Nicolas Duquette, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), NBER Working Paper No. w19860, January 2014

From the abstract:
This paper presents a quantitative analysis of the geographic distribution of spending through the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act (EOA). Using newly assembled state and county-level data, the results show that the Johnson administration systematically directed funding toward poorer and more nonwhite areas. In contrast to the distribution of New Deal spending, short-term political considerations appear to have played a minor role in distributing EOA funds. Choosing to fight poverty and discrimination rather than playing politics may help explain some of the immediate backlash against the War on Poverty programs. It also suggests that the implementation of the War on Poverty may play an important role in explaining why it is remembered as a failure.

Essay: Resolving the Public Pension ‘Crisis’

Source: Jack Michael Beermann, Boston University School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 14-5, November 11, 2013

From the abstract:
The high profile bankruptcy filing by the City of Detroit, Michigan, has brought to the fore the relationship between pension underfunding and the financial difficulties faced by an increasing number of municipalities and states in the United States. The problem is likely to continue to grow with more municipalities finding it necessary to explore the bankruptcy option or otherwise attempt to reduce pension and other obligations to employees and retirees. This essay is an effort to provoke discussion of the normative issues surrounding pension reform, mainly concerning how public employees and retirees should be treated in municipal bankruptcy. Should pension claimants be treated like any other unsecured creditor, or any other person who suffers when the regulatory background is altered, or is there a case for treating them as victims of a fiscal disaster beyond their control? Is pension reform just one more step in the evolution of the labor market that has made it much more difficult for lower skilled workers to achieve a middle class lifestyle? If so, how should the law react? The essay also includes some discussion of the fascinating federalism issues raised by the potential clash between state law protecting pension rights and federal bankruptcy standards. Should a federal bankruptcy court respect the decision of a state court, that the use of federal bankruptcy to reduce pension obligations would violate state constitutional protection of pension rights? This may be the most interesting federalism dispute in decades.

E-Government Information and Public Access: Online electronic government information and the impact of the government shutdown on public access

Source: Crystal Vicente, LLRX, January 12, 2014

From the abstract:
A dramatic termination of e-government access occurred when the October 2013 federal funding gap resulted in a shutdown of government processes. The public’s access to government information was severely limited, and in some cases prohibited entirely. The natural progress for an advanced technological society is to make information available via Internet anytime and from anywhere. However, when access is eliminated, the resulting information crisis cripples the public’s interaction with the federal government. The shutdown and the subsequent lack of access to government information is an indicator that the information dissemination model is faulty, and reliance on a single point of access is a mistake. Libraries, long charged with protecting the public’s access to information, are challenged to find a viable solution to protecting free permanent public access.