The Blog

News and stories from the campaign to reclaim individual responsibility and liberate Americans from bureaucracy and legal fear.


Common Good Releases New Report: “Two Years, Not Ten Years”

Today Common Good released Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals, our new report on the costs of delaying infrastructure permits. The report concludes that a permitting delay of six years on public projects costs the nation over $3.7 trillion, more than double the $1.7 trillion needed through the end of this decade to modernize America’s decrepit infrastructure.

Read the press release here.

Read the report here.

This report came out of the May 2015 forum Common Good co-hosted with the National Association of Manufacturers, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Covington & Burling LLP.

Common Good is pushing for a radically simplified approach, with all reviews and approvals completed within two years. “Two Years, Not Ten Years” is our rallying cry.

We would welcome your comments and suggestions on this crucial national issue. You can e-mail them to

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Philip Howard Appears on “A Closer Look with Arthur Levitt”

Philip Howard recently sat down for an extensive conversation with Arthur Levitt on his Bloomberg Radio program “A Closer Look with Arthur Levitt.” Topics of discussion with the former SEC chairman included the civil service system, environmental review, education, and presidential authority.

Click here to listen to the interview.

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Philip Howard’s Work Cited in Second Circuit Decision

In a decision certifying two questions to the Connecticut Supreme Court, the United State Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit cites Philip Howard and his 2001 book The Collapse of the Common Good. The case involves, in part, whether a Connecticut school was negligent in not warning students of the possibility of contracting encephalitis during a school trip to China. In discussing the public policy implications of such a duty, the court writes on pp. 20-21:

Defining the scope of a school’s duty when it leads an international trip could have significant consequences for negligence litigation in Connecticut, which is home to many private and public schools. Although cost-benefit analysis in most cases assumes that all interested parties are represented in the case, this is not so here. The societal impact of finding a duty here extends far beyond Hotchkiss. To impose a duty on Connecticut schools to warn about or protect against risks as remote as tick-borne encephalitis might discourage field trips that serve important educational roles. See generally Philip K. Howard, The Collapse of the Common Good (2001). If the costs imposed on schools and non-profit organizations become too high, such trips might be curtailed or cease completely, depriving children of valuable opportunities. Public policy may thus require that participants bear the risks of unlikely injuries and illnesses such as the one that occurred in this case so that institutions can continue to offer these activities.

Click here to read the full decision.

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Mitch Daniels Decries America’s Inefficient Infrastructure Approval Process, Cites Philip Howard

On Thursday, June 25, Mitch Daniels, the former Governor of Indiana and current President of Purdue University, provided testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance on how best to improve America’s decaying infrastructure. Before discussing financing—and the value of public-private partnerships in particular—Mr. Daniels, echoing Common Good’s arguments, decried America’s inefficient infrastructure approval process. Towards the end of his written comments on this issue, he cites Philip Howard’s call for “clear lines of authority” in the approval process. An excerpt:

While the financing of infrastructure is of vital national interest and the jurisdiction of this committee, upgrading our nation’s roads, ports and bridges will depend at least equally on a national agreement to reexamine the system that makes “shovel ready projects” a myth. No conversation about infrastructure would be complete without acknowledging that the permitting process is costly and broken.

At the center of the need for reform is the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which requires all federal agencies to generate detailed assessments of the environmental impact of “major federal actions.” The implementation of NEPA has evolved over time, becoming more burdensome with every decade. According to one observer, in the 1970s a final EIS was typically 22 pages long. Today, an EIS commonly exceeds a thousand pages, despite regulations directing that statements should normally be less than 150 or 300 pages, depending on the complexity of the assessment.

Similarly, forty years ago it took the Federal Highway Administration two years on average to complete an EIS. Today, it typically takes 7 years. Wasting time and money has become the standard operating procedure.

This contrasts with much of the developed, environmentally conscious world. In Canada, regulations stipulate that after a 20-day public comment period, that nation’s environmental assessment agency has 25 days to determine whether an environmental assessment is needed. If one is necessary, the agency has 1-2 years to complete the assessment. Likewise, European Union regulations allow for a maximum of three and a half years for cross-national energy infrastructure projects.

Our inability to meet such standards in this country stymies growth and is costly to the environment. How many gallons of gasoline are wasted as Americans sit idly on congested roads? How many pollutants are emitted while projects that improve energy efficiency are mired in red tape? In my state, we reduced collective emissions by thousands of tons per year by clearing out a backlog of some 450 expired air and water permits. In some cases, these had been pending for more than 20 years, even though new permits invariably require lower limits and tighter restrictions than the expired version. Moving fast in government is one of the most pro-environment things you can do. As much as anyone, the most devout of environmentalists need efficient permitting and economic growth if they are to realize their goals and the purpose of NEPA.

The overarching problem is a culture where the burden of proof is always on the pro-growth side, which has to prove that creating a new job won’t hurt the environment, in even some infinitesimal way, interfere with some previously unheard of species, or disrupt some ground of alleged, often highly debatable historical value. Our national interests would be better served if we switched the presumption so that requests for more study beyond a reasonable review would need to prove that the additional delays wouldn’t unnecessarily cost jobs and hinder growth. Today’s regulatory regime can fairly be described as cruel in the damage it inflicts on unemployed and underemployed Americans.

As the chair of Common Good, Philip K. Howard has stated, “Red tape is not the same as good government...Congress must create clear lines of authority to make decisions....[A]n environmental official should have responsibility to draw lines on how much review is sufficient. Similarly, one agency should have overriding permitting authority, balancing the concerns of other agencies and departments.”

You can read his full written testimony here.

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Common Good Press Release: Voters Would Support Government Reform

Common Good released the following press release today. Click here to access it as a PDF.


CONTACT: Chelsey Saatkamp, Goodman Media International

Nationwide Poll Shows An Overwhelming Number Of Voters Would Support A Candidate For President Who Advocates Cleaning Out Obsolete Laws And Regulations And Speeding Up Infrastructure Reviews

New York, NYJune 16, 2015 – A new nationwide poll of U.S. voters explores attitudes toward government reform, especially as it relates to cleaning out obsolete laws and regulations and speeding up infrastructure reviews. The poll conducted for Common Good by Clarus Research Group found the following:

• 78% of voters would be more inclined to vote for a candidate for President who made government reform, management performance and cleaning out obsolete laws and regulations major campaign issues.

• 74% would be more inclined to vote for a candidate for President who promised to take charge of federal infrastructure reviews to speed up the process.

Underlying those findings were the following views:

• 61% think a reason for infrastructure delays is that “No government official has the clear authority to cut through the red tape and give projects final approval”.

• 79% think there are no good reasons for infrastructure delays, which are mostly an example of wasteful and inefficient government.

• 79% think a reason for infrastructure delays is “The general inability of most government bureaucracies to do anything right or on time”.

• 81% think a reason for infrastructure delays is lawsuits filed to stop or slow down the process.

“As presidential candidates seek to gain traction with voters, they should take note of these poll findings,” said Philip K. Howard, Founder and Chair of Common Good, the nonpartisan reform coalition. “They reflect public frustration with two primary obstacles to job growth: infrastructure approvals, which can take a decade or longer, and obsolete laws and regulations, which undermine economic vitality.”

The poll was conducted for Common Good by Clarus Research Group, a nonpartisan survey firm based in Washington, DC, on June 7-10, 2015. The sample included 1,000 self-identified registered voters nationwide, who were interviewed by live telephone interviewing specialists via landlines and cells.

For more information or to talk with Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard, please contact Chelsey Saatkamp at 212-576-2700 x259 or For survey data verification, please contact Dr. Ronald A. Faucheux, President of Clarus Research Group, at

Common Good ( is a nonpartisan government reform coalition dedicated to restoring common sense to America. The Founder and Chair of Common Good is Philip K. Howard, a lawyer and author of most recently The Rule of Nobody (W. W. Norton), as well as The Death of Common Sense, Life Without Lawyers, and The Collapse of the Common Good.

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Philip Howard Authors Foreword to Reissue of “Red Tape”

The Brookings Institution has reissued Herbert Kaufman’s 1977 classic Red Tape: It’s Origins, Uses, and Abuses with a new foreword by Common Good Chair Philip Howard.

Click here to learn more about the book, including how to order.

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Gene Steuerle: Empowering the Next President—and the Next Congress

Using recent examples on trade and Medicare—and with the recognition that most all of Washington is structurally broken—the Urban Institute’s Gene Steuerle argues that “now is the ideal time to empower both the president and Congress to better perform their assigned functions.” He explains, citing Common Good Chair Philip Howard’s new book:

In his acclaimed book The Rule of Nobody, Philip K. Howard similarly argues that the president must have executive powers restored, to be able to avoid wasteful duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy, to expedite important public works, to refuse to spend allocated funds when circumstances change and the expenditure becomes wasteful, and to reorganize executive agencies.

When Congress limits the president on executive matters, no matter how small, it isn’t empowering itself. Instead, it entangles itself in complex and contradictory legislation, attempting to appease every interest (no matter how small), while weakening itself as it spends less and less time tackling the big issues that it is elected to address.

All this does not let recent presidents off the hook. The constant expansion in political appointees and the centralization of power in the White House over several decades has led to even more roadblocks to progress. When every decision must go through several political layers, almost no good idea can filter through to the president. When so many public statements and decisions on millions of government actions must be fed through the White House, civil servants and even top political appointees can’t function well, and they often retreat to doing nothing risky and seldom attacking limitations or failures in their own programs. Among the further consequences, many excellent government officials retreat to the private sector. Who wants to work where you are not allowed to do your job?

You can read his full essay here.

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Lenore Skenazy Makes the Case for “Free-Range Kids” on The Daily Show

Common Good friend and founder of the “Free-Range Kids” movement appeared on last night’s Daily Show to make the case for why we should allow our kids to navigate risk. “I think that we are overestimating danger and underestimating our kids almost all the time,” she argues. “Fear is keeping our kids inside—helpless, indoors, bored, fat, diabetic, depressed.”

Click the image below to watch the full segment.

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Common Good Event: “Paralyzed Government: Then What?”

The U.S. government is structurally paralyzed and requires a reset to become functional. The paralysis is not simply political but structural. Red tape blocks vital initiatives and obstructs rather than supports public goals. The nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, taking as long as a decade to get needed approvals to undertake essential projects. Innovation is stifled; the U.S. now ranks 46th globally in ease of starting a business. America’s economic competitiveness is undercut, along with millions of potential jobs.  

The roots of public paralysis grow deep in our culture—avoiding authority, giving any group an effective veto, and letting special interests preserve the status quo. This discussion—“Paralyzed Government: Then What?”—will bring together leading thinkers who have each recently published books suggesting the need not just for new leadership, but major overhauls of governing structures.  

Participants in the discussion, which will take place on Wednesday, June 17, and be moderated by John Avlon, Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Beast, will be:

  • Francis Fukuyama, author of Political Order and Political Decay; Professor, Stanford University;
  • John Micklethwait, co-author of The Fourth Revolution; Editor-in-Chief, Bloomberg L.P.; and
  • Philip K. Howard, author of The Rule of Nobody; Chair, Common Good.
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Philip Howard in the New York Daily News: Rebuild NYC’s Broken Bureaucracy

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials are right to call for increased investment in infrastructure, writes Philip Howard in the New York Daily News. But many policymakers, he continues, ignore the impact bureaucracy has on enacting needed projects:

No one designed this crazy jungle of red tape. It just grew here and there, over the past 50 years, until nobody—not the mayor, not even the President—has authority to make needed decisions.

New York City’s infrastructure is old. Rail tunnels were built over a century ago. One in three bridges needs major work. The useful life of some of these vital links cannot survive a decade of legal micromanagement before construction even begins.

The system of red tape must be scrapped. Officials need a new legal framework for making responsible decisions in a certain timeframe.

You can read Philip’s entire op-ed here.

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