Politics

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

A Cascade of Failures: Why Government Fails, and How to Stop It
Brookings Institute, Center for Effective Public Management, Washington D.C., July 2014.

Light, Paul C.
07/14/2014

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?

Can Democracy Survive Democracy

Can Democracy Survive Democracy
Public Administration Review Vol 74 Issue 4

David Elcott
06/04/2014

A review of Cornell W. Clayton and Richard Elgar, eds, Civility and Democracy in America: A Reasonable Understanding (Pullman, Washington: Washington State University Press, 2012).The focus is on the historical activist role of religion in policy formulation and implementation in the U.S. and the implications for present day faith communities' engagement in the public arena.

‘‘Do Something’’ Politics and Double-Peaked Policy Preferences

‘‘Do Something’’ Politics and Double-Peaked Policy Preferences
Journal of Politics 76(2): 333-349.

Egan, Patrick J.
04/09/2014

When a public problem is perceived to be poorly addressed by current policy, it is often the case that credible alternative policies are proposed to both the status quo’s left and right. Specially designed national surveys show that in circumstances like these, many Americans’ preferences are not single-peaked on the standard left-right dimension. Rather, they simply want the government to ‘‘do something’’ about the problem and therefore prefer both liberal and conservative policies to the moderate status quo. This produces individual and collective preferences that are double-peaked with respect to the left-right dimension. Double-peakedness is less prevalent on issues where no consensus exists regarding policy goals, and it increases when exogenous events raise the public’s concern about the seriousness of a policy problem.

Investigations Done Right and Wrong: Government by Investigation, 1945-2012

Investigations Done Right and Wrong: Government by Investigation, 1945-2012
Brookings Institution Press, 2013.

Light, Paul
12/03/2013

Surveying the 100 most significant Congressional and presidential investigations of executive branch breakdowns between 1945 and 2012, Paul Light offers insight into those qualities that compose an “investigation done right.” Light’s research provides data into the quantity and quality of investigatory efforts in the modern era, as well as what these patterns reveal about what investigators can do to increase the odds that their work will pay off in improved government performance and more effective public policy.

 

Public Policy Investment: Policy Prioritization and British Statecraft

Public Policy Investment: Policy Prioritization and British Statecraft
Oxford University Press 2013. ISBN 978-0-19-966397-2.

Anthony Bertelli and Peter C. John
11/28/2013

This book addresses one of the enduring questions of democratic government: why do governments choose some public policies but not others? Political executives focus on a range of policy issues, such as the economy, social policy, and foreign policy, but they shift their priorities over time. Despite an extensive literature, it has proven surprisingly hard to explain policy prioritisation. To remedy this gap, this book offers a new approach called public policy investment: governments enhance their chances of getting re-elected by managing a portfolio of public policies and paying attention to the risks involved. In this way, government is like an investor making choices about risk to yield returns on its investments of political capital. The public provides signals about expected political capital returns for government policies, or policy assets, that can be captured through expressed opinion in public polls. Governments can anticipate these signals in the choices they make. Statecraft is the ability political leaders have to consider risk and return in their policy portfolios and do so amidst uncertainty in the public's policy valuation. Such actions represent the public's views conditionally because not every opinion change is a price signal. It then outlines a quantitative method for measuring risk and return, applying it to the case of Britain between 1971 and 2000 and offers case studies illustrating statecraft by prime ministers, such as Edward Heath or Margaret Thatcher. The book challenges comparative scholars to apply public policy investment to countries that have separation of powers, multiparty government, and decentralization.

Government by Investigation: Congress, President, and the Search for Answers, 1945–2012

Government by Investigation: Congress, President, and the Search for Answers, 1945–2012
The Brookings Institution Press, 2013.

Paul Light
10/24/2013

Presidential and congressional investigations are particularly powerful tools for asking tough questions about highly visible, often complex government breakdowns, including: communist infiltration of government 1950s, the Vietnam War during the 1960s, Watergate and Central Intelligence Agency abuses during the 1970s, among 96 others covered in Government by Investigation, by Paul Light. Light, one of America’s premier authorities on public service and management, provides a deep assessment of what he has identified as the federal government’s one hundred most significant investigations since World War II.

 

Public Policy Investment: Risk and Return in British Politics

Public Policy Investment: Risk and Return in British Politics
British Journal of Political Science, 43, pp 741-773. doi:10.1017/S0007123412000567.

Anthony M. Bertelli and Peter John
10/01/2013

This article sets out and tests a theory of public policy investment – how democratic governments seek to enhance their chances of re-election by managing a portfolio of policy priorities for the public, analogous to the relationship between investment manager and client. Governments choose policies that yield returns the public values; and rebalance their policy priorities later to adjust risk and stabilize return. Do the public reward returns to policy capital or punish risky policy investments? The article investigates whether returns to policy investment guide political management and statecraft. Time-series analyses of risk and return in Britain 1971–2000 reveal that risk and return on government policy portfolios predict election outcomes, and that returns, risk profiles and the uncertainty in public signals influence the prioritization of policies.

Policy Agendas in British Politics

Policy Agendas in British Politics
Comparative Studies of Political Agendas Series; Palgrave Macmillan August 2013. ISBN 9780230390393.

Peter John, Anthony Bertelli, Will Jennings, Shaun Bevan
08/01/2013

Through a unique dataset covering half a century of policy-making in Britain, this book traces how topics like the economy, international affairs, and crime have changed in their importance to government. The data concerns key venues of decision-making - the Queen's Speech, laws and budgets – which are compared to the media and public opinion. These trends are conveyed through accessible figures backed up by a series of examples of important policies. As a result, the book throws new light on the key points of change in British politics, such as Thatcherism and New Labour and explores different approaches to agenda setting helping to account for these changes: incrementalism, the issue attention cycle and the punctuated equilibrium model. What results is the development of a new approach to agenda setting labelled focused adaptation whereby policy-makers respond to structural shifts in the underlying pattern of attention.

Partisan Priorities: How Issue Ownership Drives and Distorts American Politics

Partisan Priorities: How Issue Ownership Drives and Distorts American Politics
Cambridge University Press.

Egan, Patrick J.
07/22/2013

Americans consistently name Republicans as the party better at handling issues like national security and crime, while they trust Democrats on issues like education and the environment – a phenomenon called “issue ownership.” Partisan Priorities investigates the origins of issue ownership, showing that in fact the parties deliver neither superior performance nor popular policies on the issues they “own.” Rather, Patrick J. Egan finds that Republicans and Democrats simply prioritize their owned issues with lawmaking and government spending when they are in power. Since the parties tend to be particularly ideologically rigid on the issues they own, politicians actually tend to ignore citizens' preferences when crafting policy on these issues. Thus, issue ownership distorts the relationship between citizens' preferences and public policies.

Policy Influence, Agency-Specific Expertise, and Exit in the Federal Service

Policy Influence, Agency-Specific Expertise, and Exit in the Federal Service
Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, v. 23, n. 2 (2013). doi: 10.1093/jopart/mus044.

Anthony M. Bertelli and David E. Lewis
03/26/2013

Executive turnover influences agency performance, policy implementation, and ultimately the success of legislative delegations. We argue that turnover intention is a function of labor market opportunities—specifically, outside employment opportunities and the acquisition of nontransferable, agency-specific human capital—as well as perceptions about the way in which political decisions have affected federal executive influence over policymaking. Statistical evidence for these claims is provided using data from the 2007–2008 Survey on the Future of Government Service, the largest ever survey of US federal executives. Agency-specific human capital drives down turnover intention in our estimates. The availability of outside options has the opposite effect except in cases where the executive has invested a lot in agency-specific human capital. Turnover intention increases when an agency’s senior executives have little influence over policy. We draw out the implications of these findings for our understanding of federal labor markets, the construction of civil service systems, and the politicization of executive branch agencies.

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