A Government Ill Executed: The Decline of the Federal Service and How to Reverse It

ill executed

The federal government is having increasing difficulty faithfully executing the laws, which is what Alexander Hamilton called “the true test” of a good government. This book diagnoses the symptoms, explains their general causes, and proposes ways to improve the effectiveness of the federal government. Employing Hamilton's seven measures of an energetic federal service, Paul Light shows how the government is wanting in each measure.

After assessing the federal report card, Light offers a comprehensive agenda for reform, including new laws limiting the number of political appointees, reducing the layers of government management, reducing the size of government as its baby-boom employees retire, revitalizing the federal career, and reducing the heavy outsourcing of federal work. Although there are many ways to fix each of the seven problems with government, only a comprehensive agenda will bring the kind of reform needed to reverse the overall erosion of the capacity to faithfully execute all the laws.

The Thickening of the U.S. Government, 1960-2004

View interactive charts visualizing the Thickening of Government.


Advance Praise of Paul Light and A Government Ill Executed

“A brilliant and insightful analysis and action plan to make our government work. Bravo!”

-Donna Shalala, former Secretary of Health and Human Services and President of Miami University

“Paul Light has made a major contribution to rethinking federal bureaucracy at a crucial time in its evolution. With the retirement of the baby boom bureaucrats there will be a greater opportunity to rethink and reshape the federal government than at any time since the New Deal. If it is done with the kind of thoughtfulness Light proposes it could profoundly improve the delivery of government services and the quality of the federal work force.”

-Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House

“Ever since Hurricane Katrina, we have bemoaned the costs of incompetent government. But Paul Light has done much more: He has focused his enormous energies and brilliant mind on exactly how to create a government that works well. That's why Light's voice is so important in our national debate, and why this is such an important book. Whatever your idealogy, you need to pay attention to what Light sayas about how to achieve competence and even excellence in government. The next president needs to read this book, and so do the voters who have a right to expect something better in the coming years.”

-E.J. Dionne, Jr., author of “Why Americans Hate Politics and Souled Out”


Excerpts from Reviews

"The book is, 'A Government Ill Executed.' I urge you to read it. It is an important book, and I hope that Senators Obama and McCain are looking at that book as we speak."

 -Lou Dobbs, CNN - Transcript

“So, not only the presidential candidates, but everyone running for Congress should read this book. If our political leaders do not confront this pattern of desperate concern, says this sober scholar, "they are likely to preside over a string of meltdowns that will make the federal response to Hurricane Katrina look like a minor mistake.”

-Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal, PBS

“[T]he next administration had best heed Light's call to focus on getting a coherent, shorter nomination and confirmation process that encourages talented people to sign up for government service.”

-Al Kamen, The Washington Post

NYU Wagner at the Puck Building is home to the Gallery Space at Wagner.

Gallery Space

Interested in receiving additional information via email?

Request Information