Category Archives: Government

The Job of Government: Interweaving Public Functions and Private Hands

Source: Donald F. Kettl, Public Administration Review, Vol. 75 Issue 2, March/April 2015
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From the abstract:
Lively and sometimes raucous debate about the job of government has increasingly engulfed American politics. Much of that debate has swirled around government’s size, with conservatives arguing the case for shrinking government and liberals fighting to grow it. In reality, however, neither of these debates engages the critical underlying trend: the increasing interweaving of governmental functions deeply into every fiber of the nongovernmental sectors. Many reforms have sought to rein in government’s power, but none has engaged the fundamental interweaving of policy implementation, and, not surprisingly, most have failed. Indeed, many have eroded the public’s trust in the governmental institutions on which they depend. This process raises fundamental challenges for defining government’s core role, for building the capacity to govern effectively, and for enhancing the accountability of governmental programs. Many of government’s administrative tools are a poor match for the governance problems they seek to solve.

Ten Secret Truths About Government Incompetence

Source: Donald F. Kettl, Washington Monthly, Vol. 47 nos. 1 & 2, January/February 2015

What you can learn from the management mistakes of Obama and Bush.

I. Government works better than people think. Most of the time. …..
II. Good management doesn’t win elections—but bad management can ruin presidencies. Fast. …..
III. We don’t distinguish between failures that are truly consequential and those that have lesser impact. …..
IV. We say we want to run government more like the private sector— but we expect government to meet standards that the private sector could never manage. …..
V. Much of government’s work isn’t done by government. …..
VI. The problem isn’t too many bureaucrats—it’s too few. …..
VII. Half the time, when it looks like it’s the president’s fault, the problems really come from Congress. …..
VIII. Critics of your government will create self-fulfilling prophecies by underfunding and otherwise sabotaging programs they don’t like. …..
IX. Government can be made much better relatively quickly—and can be made worse even more quickly. …..
X. Presidents can win the game if they pay attention. …..

How Does Government Borrowing Affect Corporate Financing and Investment?

Source: John R. Graham, Mark T. Leary, Michael R. Roberts, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), NBER Working Paper No. w20581, October 2014
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From the abstract:
Using a novel dataset of accounting and market information that spans most publicly traded nonfinancial firms over the last century, we show that U.S. federal government debt issuance significantly affects corporate financial policies and balance sheets through its impact on investors’ portfolio allocations and the relative pricing of different assets. Government debt is strongly negatively correlated with corporate debt and investment, but strongly positively correlated with corporate liquidity. These relations are more pronounced in larger, less risky firms whose debt is a closer substitute for Treasuries. Indeed, we find a strong negative relation between the BAA-AAA yield spread and government debt, highlighting the greater sensitivity of more highly rated credit to variation in the supply of Treasuries. The channel through which this effect operates is investors’ portfolio decisions: domestic intermediaries actively substitute between lending to the federal government and the nonfinancial corporate sector. The relations between government debt and corporate policies, as well as the substitution between government and corporate debt by intermediaries, are stronger after 1970 when foreign demand increased competition for Treasury securities. In concert, our results suggest that large, financially healthy corporations act as liquidity providers by supplying relatively safe securities to investors when alternatives are in short supply, and that this financial strategy influences firms’ capital structures and investment policies.

Civil Rights Enforcement in the Most Dangerous Branch

Source: Catherine Y. Kim, University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill – School of Law, UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2480134, August 13, 2014

From the abstract:
For decades, civil rights scholars have debated the relative institutional competencies of federal courts and administrative agencies in vindicating civil rights violations. Doctrinal developments diminishing the role of federal courts, however, render this comparison increasingly irrelevant. The scholarly focus must shift from the question of institutional choice, i.e., whether the judiciary is better suited than agencies to combat civil rights violations, to one of institutional design, i.e., how to design federal agencies to facilitate meaningful enforcement.

Skepticism toward administrative enforcement of civil rights reflects a fear that the President, as head of the executive branch, will manipulate – or subvert – agencies’ enforcement efforts for partisan ends, thereby raising broader separation-of-powers concerns. This article develops a framework for assessing how a given agency’s institutional design shapes the legal, political, and structural constraints to presidential policymaking discretion, and how these constraints vary depending on whether the policy is implemented through notice-and-comment rulemaking, the issuance of interpretive guidance, or the strategic exercise of prosecutorial discretion in enforcement proceedings. Given agencies’ freedom to choose between policymaking tools, this structure creates incentives for an administration to channel policy decisions – particularly controversial ones – through certain tools precisely to circumvent constraints on its discretion. This analysis carries important implications beyond the civil rights context, offering insights into enforcement debates across regulatory contexts, including the current debate over administrative relief for undocumented aliens.

The Relationship Between Short-Term Political Appointments and Bureaucratic Performance: The Case of Recess Appointments in the United States

Source: Susan M. Miller, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, First published online: August 11, 2014
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From the abstract:
Within the bureaucratic performance literature, a growing body of work focuses on the relationship between the character of an administrator’s selection—career administrators versus different types of appointees—and bureaucratic performance, finding that programs managed by political appointees are associated with lower performance scores than programs managed by career professionals. One aspect of administrators’ selection that has not been considered in connection with bureaucratic performance is whether the appointee was installed via recess appointment. Because their limited and uncertain tenures may cause administrative problems and because the unilateral nature of their selection may lead executives to prioritize other characteristics over competency, I theorize that recess appointees will be associated with lower program performance than non-recess appointees and careerists. Using Program Assessment Rating Tool scores from the George W. Bush administration, I find support for this expectation. This article contributes to our understanding of the ways in which staffing through recess appointments may shape government administration.

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
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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. ….