Blog — Op-Ed
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 ›
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 ›
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 ›
Here's Philip Howard's lead op-ed in the Washington Post on what's needed to finally tame the red tape monster.
Click the picture below to watch an animated video Common Good created to accompany Howard’s op-ed:Comment ›
UPDATE: Howard’s essay was excerpted by the Weekly Standard—read it here.
Writing for American Interest, Common Good Chair Philip Howard argues that, in the wake of the 2016 election, there’s an historic opportunity to reimagine government. “Change is overdue,” he writes “But it’s not the change advocated by either party. The change needed, to liberate American citizens and to fix American government, is to return to our founding philosophy: to honor humans by creating a framework that empowers them to take initiative, act on their beliefs, and make a difference.”
Click here to access the essay as a PDF.
If you agree, it will make a difference if you encourage others to read it. This is a critical time, and the future direction of government is uncertain.Comment ›
The cover story of this week’s Fortune magazine—“The Red Tape Conundrum” by Brian O'Keefe—highlights the work of Philip Howard and Common Good. The article’s sub-heading reflects the substantive connection to Common Good: How the wrong kind of regulation is strangling business—and what to do about it.
“It may well be the biggest bogeyman in business—bigger, perhaps, than even taxes: We’re talking, of course, about red tape,” the article begins. “The idea that burdensome and overly complicated government regulation is strangling growth is almost as old as commerce itself. But right now the hue and cry from the business community is louder than at just about any time in recent memory… In a recent survey by Deloitte, North American chief financial officers named new, burdensome regulation as the No. 2 threat to their business, behind only the possibility of a recession.”
The article then explores key questions: How can we be sure that our regulatory framework promotes innovation and fosters growth while at the same time protecting workers and consumers? Can we fix the current system or do we need to start over? How much is business at fault for the very excesses that companies themselves bemoan? And, finally, is there anything anybody can do to stop it?
“The rulemaking machinery—just like the law-making system—is geared toward pushing out new regulations, not removing them,” continues the article. “‘I kind of think of the regulatory issue as people basically saying in their own varying ways, Who’s in charge here?’ says (Michael) Mandel (chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute).”
“Philip K. Howard has spent more than two decades waging a campaign against red tape,” the article continues. “… he has written four books assailing over-legalization and founded a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization called Common Good to advocate reform—enlisting in his projects retired politicians from both the left and the right, including former senators Bill Bradley and Alan Simpson and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels… Howard’s belief is that our laws have gotten too precise for such a complex world and that our attempts to dictate every aspect of human behavior through rulemaking are only bogging us down. The system, he argues, is unadaptable. Similar to Mandel, Howard believes that too many different authorities means that nobody is in charge… In Howard’s mind, it’s time to go to a clean sheet of paper and rethink our entire approach… ‘You can’t reform this system,’ says Howard. ‘You have to rewrite it. That’s the lesson of history.’”
“(Matt) Harris (managing director at Bain Capital Ventures) echoes Philip K. Howard in suggesting that we may need a more radical approach. The best way to respond to our increasingly complex world is to make our rules simpler, he suggests, not more detailed. Regulations are now written in an attempt to legislate every imaginable action by individuals on every imaginable subject—an impossible task. ‘I think the whole thing needs to be rethought and boiled back to more of a principles-based set of detailed prescriptions on how everything can work,’ says Harris.”
From beginning to end, the cover story reverberates with Common Good’s philosophy about and solutions to this critical issue and underscores the necessity of our new campaign, joined by Sen. Bradley and Gov. Daniels among others, to overhaul government.
Click here to read the full Fortune piece.Comment ›
In the latest edition of “The Weekly Stupid”—the newsletter of the “Who’s in Charge Around Here?” campaign—a new animated video from Common Good examines an overlooked reason why Washington doesn’t work: it’s toxic culture.
Click on the image below to watch the video:
The culture of a place determines how it works. Whether people in a place take responsibility, feel free to innovate, speak truth to power, pitch in, help others grow, or do a thousand other things that help a group thrive, is usually fostered by its culture. Conversely, a culture can also lead people to be self-protective, short-sighted, quick to assign blame, and disinterested in joint purpose—sounds like Washington, right?
Here's a radical idea: Start moving agencies out of D.C. It wouldn’t matter where, as long as new people were in charge. Most Americans go to work expecting to make things work. They take responsibility—for results. Americans are willing to make hard choices, because that’s their job. In contrast, Washington avoids responsibility like the plague. It lacks the will to govern. That’s why, one way or the other, we believe Washington needs to be replaced.
For more discussion on the poisonous culture of Washington, check out Philip Howard's essay over at The Daily Beast.
Click here to sign up for future editions of "The Weekly Stupid." To learn more about the “Who’s in Charge Around Here?” campaign, visit Take-Charge.org. You can also follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: #TakeCharge.Comment ›
Responding to a recent article in the New York Times on Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s agreement to increase infrastructure spending, Philip Howard penned a letter to the editor arguing that the reason we can’t rebuild America’s infrastructure is not a matter of financing, but of red tape:
To the Editor:
“Candidates Agree on One Thing: Infrastructure” (front page, Sept. 19) notes a rare point of agreement between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: to spend at least $250 billion fixing America’s decrepit infrastructure.
The main hurdle is not financing, however, but red tape. Congress funded an $800 billion stimulus plan in 2009, and five years later only $30 billion had been spent on transportation infrastructure. As President Obama put it, “There’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.”
Delays of a decade or longer are common. Last year, Common Good published a report, “Two Years, Not Ten Years,” that found that decade-long review and permitting procedures more than double the effective cost of new infrastructure projects.
What the candidates need to address is how to create clear lines of authority to cut through red tape. Until then, vital projects will languish on the drawing boards.
PHILIP K. HOWARD
Chairman, Common Good
Click here to see the letter.
To learn more about the state of America’s infrastructure, and Common Good’s proposed solutions to streamline permitting, visit the Infrastructure & Environment page of our “Who’s in Charge Around Here?” campaign site.
You can also join former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-NJ), Gov. Tom Kean (R-NJ), and Sen. Al Simpson (R-WY) in supporting our “It's Time to Overhaul Washington” petition—available here on Change.org.Comment ›
Mrs. Clinton sees lots of trees, not the forest, and is viewed as the candidate of the status quo. Mr. Trump is running as an outsider and strong man, but will have neither the vision nor mandate to overhaul entrenched structures. Whoever wins, angry voters are likely to be even angrier four years from now.
Howard goes on to offer the needed prescription for change:
Common Good, the nonprofit of which I am chairman, has a clear, bipartisan plan for fixing broken government: Simplify regulation so that individual responsibility, not rote bureaucracy, is the organizing principle of government. Laws should set goals and guiding principles, with clear lines of authority. Simple frameworks will be sufficient, in most areas, to replace thousands of pages of micro-regulation.
No brilliant systems are required—just the ability to be practical. This overhaul is not partisan. Former Sens. Bill Bradley of New Jersey and Alan Simpson of Wyoming, former Govs. Mitch Daniels (Indiana) and Tom Kean (New Jersey) have joined the Common Good movement.
How do we determine which regulations and laws are good or bad? The litmus test is results: What’s good is what works. Achieving practicality requires creating structures that are adaptable and allow trial and error. The current system is far too rigid—cast-iron regulatory manacles can’t adapt quickly, waste taxpayer money and impose a deadweight on freedom.
Click here to read Howard’s full essay.
Lastly, you can join former Sen. Bill Bradley (D-NJ), Gov. Tom Kean (R-NJ), and Sen. Al Simpson (R-WY) in supporting our petition—available here on Change.org.Comment ›
Philip Howard in the Daily Beast: The Cure to Irresponsible Public Discourse Is to Restore Authority
Writing in the Daily Beast, and discussing New York Times Company CEO Mark Thompson’s new book, Common Good Chair Philip Howard explains how the breakdown of authority has turned public discourse into a shouting match:
Public discourse is a cacophony because the words don’t matter. There’s no decision-maker to persuade or to hold you accountable. The disappearance of authority was no accident. After the 1960s, we reorganized government to avoid fallible human judgment by replacing human authority with thick rulebooks. That’s why government is a tangle of red tape where no one can do much of anything. Critical infrastructure projects languish on drawing boards because no official has authority to give a permit. Schools are chaotic because teachers must prove in a due process hearing that Johnny threw the punch. In government without human authority, irresponsible actions have few consequences, and irresponsible words have no consequences. Yell, hiss, lie… whatever.
The solution, Howard concludes, is to empower people, and government officials in particular, to ask and act upon this question: “What’s the right thing to do here?”
Click here to read Howard’s full essay—and click here to read more about his proposed solution on the “Who’s in Charge Around Here?” campaign site. You can sign up for the campaign at Take-Charge.org. You can also follow it on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: #TakeCharge.Comment ›