Read the essay here.Comment ›
News and stories from the campaign to reclaim individual responsibility and liberate Americans from bureaucracy and legal fear.
Writing for the Ripon Forum, Common Good Chair Philip Howard argues that the only way to fix Washington is to empower government officials to make sensible choices. He writes:
Americans are angry not just because Washington is too fat, but because it’s so stupid. The failure is imbedded in the idea that government can be a machine. Indeed, the operating philosophy of government is that regulation should be mindless compliance. That’s why rulebooks are a thousand pages, when the Constitution is only 15 pages. …
What replaces red tape? People.
Human responsibility is the only alternative to mindless bureaucracy. Law can set goals and provide guiding principles, but common sense is impossible unless people – both officials and citizens – have the freedom to use their judgment at the point of implementation.
This will not happen, however, unless officials also are also subject to accountability – something anathema to today's civil service:
No one will give officials flexibility to use common sense unless they are accountable when they fail or are mean-spirited. Now we get to the link between regulatory reform and civil service reform. Accountability is basically nonexistent for federal civil servants. Job performance is irrelevant. Indeed, more people die on the job than are terminated or demoted.
Read Howard’s full essay here to see his prescription for fixing America’s civil service system.Comment ›
Following his participation in the Trump Administration’s Strategic and Policy Forum, Philip Howard was interviewed by the Guardian newspaper about a possible way forward to fix America’s broken infrastructure – both in terms of funding and streamlining the permitting process:
Philip Howard, a lawyer and advocate of “government simplification”, took part in a break-out session with Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary; Bayo Ogunlesi, chairman of Global Infrastructure Partners; and Matt Rose, executive chairman of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway, which then reported back to Trump.
The president has pledged to unleash $1tn in private and public investments to repair bridges, improve the electrical grid and broadband internet, upgrade airports and potentially rebuild hospitals for veterans, but Howard said Trump acknowledged even this sum might not be enough.
“That was a figure that people discussed but it wasn’t hard and fast and in fact I think President Trump at one point mentioned that perhaps it should be more,” he told the Guardian after leaving the White House grounds. “Fixing infrastructure’s really important and it’s going to cost. He was very hopeful that Democrats, certainly on the infrastructure part of this, would be very cooperative.” …
Howard called for an overhaul of the infrastructure permitting process, cutting through red tape for faster decisions. “There’s been this accretion of well-meaning laws over the last 50 years with no one in charge of drawing lines, so the process can take a decade or longer to get an infrastructure project,” he said. “The effect of that is that it more than doubles the cost of infrastructure and it’s also dramatically harmful to the environment, ironically, because conducting an environmental review just prolongs bottlenecks.
“So there needs to be a new mechanism, basically clear lines of authority to make decisions. Congress caused the problem and, although the administration can do certain things by itself, Congress needs to solve that problem. It’s kind of a mosh pit of overlapping regulatory requirements often run by agencies with dramatically different missions that don’t even like each other.”
Howard concluded the interview with what’s needed to fix broken government, particularly in terms of addressing the accumulation of old law:
“I do think [President Trump] has his finger on the endemic problem with this legacy government, a government that’s run by laws written over the last 50 or 60 years that nobody ever goes and fixes. You end up having out of date computer systems using eight-inch floppy disks, stuff like that, that costs a lot more to maintain than it would take to build a new one entirely.
“Somehow or other we need to change the operating system of government so that it can make sensible choices where today sensible choices are basically illegal. I think he understands the problem. I’m not sure he or anyone has come to grips with the solution.”
Read the whole interview here.Comment ›
President Trump has vowed to create a trillion-dollar program to rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure. He also recently announced a new White House Office of American Innovation, led by Jared Kushner, to apply business techniques to make government work better. So, how would a business fix our country's massive infrastructure problems?
In two new articles, Philip Howard lays out a business approach to rebuilding infrastructure and shines the spotlight on Congress' failure to clear out decades of red tape and, equally irresponsible, to provide funding. Infrastructure doesn't grow on trees.
Click here to read his March 31 Daily Beast essay.
Click here to read his April 2 Daily News essay.Comment ›
On March 1st, the Stanford University Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, Stanford’s Global Projects Center and Common Good released the below joint press release on a February 2017 roundtable that addressed policy reforms to accelerate and enhance the development and redevelopment of critical US infrastructure.
Click here to read the release on the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law’s website.
The Stanford University Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, the Stanford Global Projects Center and Common Good hosted the “Renewing American Infrastructure” Roundtable February 9th and 10th, 2017.
Stanford University – March 1, 2017. The Renewing American Infrastructure Roundtable was held on February 9th and 10th, 2017 to discuss federal reforms and policy changes in the US to accelerate the improvement of our critical economic and social infrastructure. The roundtable was hosted jointly by the Stanford Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), the Stanford Global Projects Center (GPC) and Common Good, a non-partisan reform group.
Participants included policymakers and leaders from the public and private sector as well as academia. Topics of discussion included policy and regulatory reforms to make infrastructure investment more efficient, and potential mechanisms to finance a new federal infrastructure initiative in the US.
While acknowledging that additional federal spending on infrastructure will help, the roundtable participants formed a consensus that policy and institutional reforms are also sorely needed. Many US institutions and policies for approving and developing infrastructure projects are extremely outdated and have not kept pace with best practices globally. Any new federal infrastructure initiative will need to combine policy reforms with additional Federal, State, local and private spending to be successful.
The participants developed four thematic areas for policy reform recommendations to accelerate the improvement of US economic and social infrastructure. Those initiatives include:
Specific policy recommendations and institutional changes under each of these initiatives will be published in the weeks and months following the roundtable. The roundtable was chaired by Stanford Professors Francis Fukuyama and Raymond Levitt, and Philip Howard, founder of Common Good.
Stanford Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law
Djurdja Padejski, Communications Manager
Stanford Global Projects Center
Terra Strong, Program Manager
About the Stanford Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law
The Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford University has collaborated widely with academics, policymakers and practitioners around the world to advance knowledge about the conditions for and interactions among democracy, broad-based economic development, human rights, and the rule of law. CDDRL is home to a dynamic interdisciplinary research community of innovative and distinguished faculty members and scholars from around the world. Their work spans the globe and bridges the divide between academic research and policy analysis, forging partnerships not only with other research centers but also with international development agencies, governments and civil society organizations in numerous countries.
More information can be found at http://cddrl.fsi.stanford.edu
About the Stanford Global Projects Center
The Stanford Global Projects Center (GPC) is an interdisciplinary research center at Stanford University that seeks to facilitate understanding of the financing and development of critical infrastructure globally. The center conducts research on the policies and practices of institutional investors getting capital into the real economy, and studies best practices of public agencies in investing in and developing new infrastructure. The center also facilitates engagement among academic, government and industry leaders in the sector.
More information can be found at https://gpc.stanford.edu
About Common Good
Common Good is a nonpartisan reform coalition that offers Americans a new way to look at law and government. We propose practical, bold ideas to restore common sense to all three branches of government – legislative, executive and judicial – based on the principles of individual freedom, responsibility and accountability. Common Good’s philosophy is based on a simple but powerful idea: People, not rules, make things happen. This idea is fundamental to how we write laws and regulations, structure government agencies and resolve legal disputes. It affects all our lives, every day. Our mission is to overhaul governmental and legal systems to allow people to make sensible choices. We believe Americans need to be liberated to do their best.
More information can be found at http://www.commongood.org
President Trump has called for $54 billion in cuts to discretionary spending, with the EPA and the Department of State floated as likely targets. Such cuts will stoke the flames of partisanship while delivering relatively minuscule savings. Writing in the Daily Beast, Philip Howard explains that there are hundreds of billions of dollars worth of low-hanging fruit the President could target instead, resulting in substantial federal savings and millions of new private sector jobs:
Donald Trump has a mandate to clean out the mess in Washington. Cutting waste is critical. This golden opportunity may fail, however, if the Trump administration starts a culture war by defunding EPA and other agencies popular with liberals, while leaving most waste untouched. There’s no need to stall on take-off: Washington’s waste pile is so high that President Trump could energize the economy by bulldozing bureaucracy that serves no public purpose.
Read the full essay here.Comment ›
Read the essay here.Comment ›
On February 9 and 10, Common Good, Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, and Stanford’s Global Projects Center will co-host a workshop titled “Renewing American Infrastructure” at Stanford.
New investment in American infrastructure has become a centerpiece of the new Trump administration, and was one issue on which both candidates agreed during the election. As the administration prepares to roll out its initiative on this issue, there are a number of large, unanswered questions. How will resources for new infrastructure be generated, and at what scale? What will the role of the private sector be? How can we streamline and reduce the regulatory burden faced by infrastructure projects, so that they can be completed in a timely and cost-effective fashion? How do we de-politicize the resource allocation process, and ensure fair access to funding? What is the correct balance between the federal government and the states in overseeing projects? And finally, how do we make sure that projects incorporate new technologies, both for the sake of sustainability, and to integrate complex infrastructure environments?
Thursday, February 9
1:30 to 4:30 PM
Panel 1: Financing a New Federal Infrastructure Initiative
Friday, February 10
9:00 AM to 12:30 PM
Panel 2: Streamlining the Regulatory Burden
Panel 3: Ensuring Fairness in Resource Allocation
1:30 to 4:30 PM
Panel 4: Incentivizing Innovation and Sustainability
Panel 5: Policy RecommendationsComment ›
Read the essay here.Comment ›
Both sides of the aisle recognize that the civil service system is terminally ossified and needs to be rebuilt. But how do we get rid of the current, bloated bureaucratic mess in the face of union power and public indifference?
In today's Wall Street Journal, Philip Howard argues that the civil service system, as currently structured, is unconstitutional and could be rebuilt by an executive order that honors principles of neutral hiring and fosters a culture of excellence and accountability. The full essay in the American Interest, with compelling constitutional history on the importance of executive authority, is here.
From the Wall Street Journal op-ed, “The President’s Right to Say ‘You’re Fired’":
President Trump wants to overhaul the civil service. Even ardent liberals agree it needs to be rebuilt, but past efforts at reform have withered in Congress under union power and public indifference. There’s a more direct path: Mr. Trump can repudiate civil service in its current form as a violation of the Constitution’s mandate that ‘the executive power shall be vested in a President.’… Because of civil-service laws passed by Congress many years ago, the president has direct authority over a mere 2% of the federal workforce. The question is whether those laws are constitutional. Does Congress have the power to tell the president that he cannot terminate inept or insubordinate employees? The answer, I believe, is self-evident. A determined president could replace the civil-service system on his own, by executive order. The move would doubtless be challenged in court, but it would likely be upheld, especially if the new framework advances legitimate goals, honors principles of neutral hiring and is designed to foster a culture of excellence.
Read the full op-ed here.
From the American Interest essay, “Civil Service Reform: Reassert the President’s Constitutional Authority”:
In 2014 the Partnership for Public Service issued a report describing civil service as ‘a relic of a bygone era,’ and called for ‘a new civil service framework,’ including ending the presumption of lifetime careers. Like other good government reports, however, it treated accountability with kid gloves. But once the power of accountability is restored, designing a new civil service system requires no genius. The basic elements are: 1) neutral hiring, without the endless red tape of the current system; 2) a safety net to treat public employees fairly if they are let go; and 3) a neutral body (perhaps the current Merit System Protection Board) with responsibility to guard against unfairness.
Read the full essay here.Comment ›