Blog — Government
Posted 2/3/14 by Philip K. Howard
Howard's Daily by Philip K. Howard
Today’s mainstream conservatives are predictably anti-big government—a theme that ignores how government oversight is often essential to freedom in an interdependent society. Just as freedom requires cops on the street, so too it requires inspectors to safeguard against unsanitary restaurants and dingy nursing homes.
But in two columns over the weekend, a new conservative critique emerges that I believe is more accurate. In "Meanwhile, Back in America …", Peggy Noonan discusses the gap between the rhetoric of the State of the Union speech, and the reality of Big Brother in people’s daily lives. The main flaw as I see it is not in government’s aspirations, but in its implementation. It is not hard to imagine government that allows practical choices on the ground, or accommodates different values. But instead it clings to a one-size-fits-all approach that sues to end a school voucher program in Louisiana because it is successful in helping motivated minority students escape awful public schools.
Joseph Rago’s interview of Sen. Tom Coburn reveals a conservative as fed up with right-wing special interests as with those of the left. Sen Coburn has concluded, clearly correctly in my view, that "I don’t think Washington can fix Washington." The culture of government is dedicated to itself, not to the society it supposedly serves. It is too inbred, too paralyzed in accumulated laws, as I argue in my new book (The Rule of Nobody, April). What’s needed is an outside movement to force a dramatic spring cleaning and resetting of priorities. Think the 1960s. The villain is not Bull Connor but a suffocating, unaffordable bureaucratic blob feeding special interests on all sides.Comment ›
Posted 1/31/14 by Philip K. Howard
Howard’s Daily by Philip K. Howard
Perhaps it’s fitting that Madison County, Illinois—where trial lawyers roam the courts like gunslingers—is now also a symbol of bureaucratic excess. This week Madison County authorities shut down the fledgling cupcake business of 11-year-old Chloe Stirling (“Hello, Cupcake!”), because health department rules require her either to purchase a commercial bakery (hmm, that’s practical) or to have a dedicated kitchen (ditto). Chloe’s cupcake business now is tossed onto the scrapheap of neighborhood activities, such as children’s lemonade stands, soup kitchens, and school fundraisers that, inevitably, conflict with cast-iron bureaucratic rules that loom over our (supposedly) free society.
The flaw here is the notion that regulatory oversight requires one-size-fits-all. The main public purpose of health regs is to avoid poisoning people, an undeniably worthwhile goal. But regulators should focus on the goal, not rule micromanagement. Officials must have flexibility to make exceptions for life’s little activities—at least until a real problem emerges. Yes, giving officials flexibility can sometimes lead to problems, as with certain police practices. But if police enforced every law literally, most of us would be in jail for jaywalking. It is impossible to regulate society fairly and sensibly without human judgment. Chloe Stirling is only the latest example of America’s flawed governing philosophy. See generally www.commongood.org.Comment ›
Posted 1/30/14 by Philip K. Howard
Howard’s Daily by Philip K. Howard
Law is supposed to support a free society. Instead, increasingly, “following the rules” prevents people from doing what’s right. This week a lifelong employee of the Washington, DC parks department, Medric Mills, died of a heart attack in front of a DC fire station when the firemen refused to help. The firemen apparently believed they were "following the rules." They were only allowed to respond to 911 calls—not the reality of a person dying at their doorstep. Or, they had to "get permission" from a supervisor before intervening. An investigation is underway.
A few years ago, hospital staff in Chicago refused to help a young man dying of gunshot wounds in the hospital driveway because of a rule that they were not allowed to leave the hospital building. In 2011, firemen watched a man drown in California because they hadn’t been re-certified in “land-based waters rescues.”
Law should support, not supplant, moral choices. American law has instead become a kind of obsession. The solution, as I argue in The Rule of Nobody (out in April), requires a fundamental rethinking of how law is structured: People need to be accountable for the reasonableness of their actions, not mindless compliance with detailed rules.Comment ›
Posted 1/29/14 by Philip K. Howard
Howard's Daily by Philip K. Howard
No economic fruit is larger, or lower hanging, than rebuilding America’s decrepit infrastructure. Several million jobs could be added. American competitiveness would be enhanced. Public and private investors would be repaid handsomely ($1.59 on each $1). America's environmental footprint would be greener. All that’s needed to get all this is…end legal paralysis.
Other “greener” countries approve large projects in a year, two years at most. In America the time frame can stretch into decades. (Read my recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Why It Takes So Long to Build a Bridge in America”.)
Once again President Obama highlighted this gargantuan opportunity, saying in last night’s State of the Union address: "I will act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible." But this has been his priority for five years. Every effort to cut through the process has been replaced by new models of more process.
There’s a missing link: Some environmental official needs to have the job of deciding when there’s been enough environmental review. Don’t trust him? Give another official or committee the job of second-guessing him. Otherwise the process goes round and round forever. Then it’s litigated for years by whoever doesn’t like the project. We’ll never build anything on a timely basis until we scrap this headless system.Comment ›
Posted 12/9/13 by Common Good
The benefits of greater public and private investment in infrastructure are enormous—job creation, enhanced economic competitiveness, and a greener footprint. But first, America has to fix its paralytic legal infrastructure. Common Good and Regional Plan Association hosted a forum in Washington, D.C. on November 21 to explore obstacles to effective infrastructure investment and solutions to the regulatory and beaurocratic mess. Below, see video of all the presentations from the Infrastructure Now forum. A full schedule of the event can be viewed here, and you can read Common Good's press release on the forum here.
Senator Angus King (I-ME) introduced the forum, observing that because of our convoluted approval process, many of our most crucial infrastructure projects could not be built today:
Diana Mendes of the engineering consulting firm AECOM continued with comments on the history of environmental review, the National Environmental Policy Act, and what we can do today to achieve NEPA's goals without crippling our ability to undertake infrastructure projects (Mendes also used a slide presentation which you can download here):
Nick Malyshev of the OECD compared international approval processes that hold lessons for the U.S. approach (Malyshev's slide presentation can be downloaded here):
A panel of experts on environmental review shared a variety of perspectives on the challenges and opportunities for reform of the environmental review process:
Finally, a second panel investigated the issue of jurisdictional overlap in infrastructure permitting:
Posted 12/2/13 by Common Good
Senator King's opening remarks from the Common Good/RPA Infrastructure Now forum:
Posted 11/25/13 by Common Good
The Wall Street Journal on Saturday published an essay by Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard on the frustratingly inefficient process for approving infrastructure projects. This inefficiency takes away jobs and commerce:
Building new infrastructure would enhance U.S. global competitiveness, improve our environmental footprint and, according to McKinsey studies, generate almost two million jobs. But it is impossible to modernize America's physical infrastructure until we modernize our legal infrastructure. Regulatory review is supposed to serve a free society, not paralyze it.
The problem? A hopelessly bureaucratized environmental review process delays essential projects for years, in some cases a decade. Howard writes:
The environmental review statement for dredging the Savannah River took 14 years to complete. Even projects with little or no environmental impact can take years. Raising the roadway of the Bayonne Bridge at the mouth of the Port of Newark, for example, requires no new foundations or right of way, and would not require approvals at all except that it spans navigable water. Raising the roadway would allow a new generation of efficient large ships into the port. But the project is now approaching its fifth year of legal process, bogged down in environmental litigation.
Building and maintaining a modern infrastructure--and the jobs that come with it--requires serious reform of the environmental review process. Howard suggests that we look to other countries' experience:
Canada requires full environmental review, with state and local input, but it has recently put a maximum of two years on major projects. Germany allocates decision-making authority to a particular state or federal agency: Getting approval for a large electrical platform in the North Sea, built this year, took 20 months; approval for the City Tunnel in Leipzig, scheduled to open next year, took 18 months. Neither country waits for years for a final decision to emerge out of endless red tape.
Posted 11/25/13 by Common Good
The benefits of greater public and private investment in infrastructure are enormous—job creation, enhanced economic competitiveness, and a greener footprint. But first, America has to fix its paralytic legal infrastructure. Common Good and Regional Plan Association hosted a forum in Washington, D.C. on November 21 to explore obstacles to effective infrastructure investment and solutions to the regulatory and beaurocratic mess.
The forum featured participants from government, policy groups, and the private sector, including:
- Sen. Angus King (I-ME)
- Steve W. Black, Bingham Consulting
- Matthew Carstens, ITC Holdings Corp.
- Jenny D’Anna, ITC Holdings Corp.
- Tyler Duvall, McKinsey & Company
- E. Donald Elliott, Yale Law School
- George Frampton, Jr., Covington & Burling
- Travers Garvin, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
- Philip K. Howard, Common Good
- Nick A. Malyshev, OECD
- Diana Mendes, AECOM
- Lynn Scarlett, The Nature Conservancy
- Robert D. Yaro, Regional Plan Association
You can view the full webcast of the forum here, and we'll be posting edited video clips in the coming days. In addition, we've issued a press release with results of a national survey on environmental reviews. Below, some photos from the event:
Opening remarks from Philip K. Howard
Comments from Sen. Angus King (I-ME)
Diana Mendes of AECOM: "This is how we do things with NEPA":
Posted 7/3/13 by Common Good
For 30 years, California has operated a program known as "enterprise zones", providing tax incentives for investment in economically suffering areas. According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Gov. Jerry Brown contends that the incentives are no longer serving their intended purpose:
In 2010, the enterprise-zone program gave out tax breaks totaling $698 million, compared with $136 million 10 years earlier, according to the California Franchise Tax Board—and businesses in San Francisco got a bigger sum than anywhere except Los Angeles, even though the city is one of the state's wealthiest.
Of course, businesses that benefit from the status quo are fighting any attempt to restructure the program:
"Any business that is currently in a zone and getting credits is going to defend it very strongly," said David Neumark, an economist and professor who is the co-author of a paper published in 2009 that focused on California's program. But "if you look at average effects, this program is a waste of money."
When laws outlive their usefulness, they need to be reformed--even if it ruffles special interests' feathers. Read the full report here.Comment ›
Posted 6/27/13 by Common Good
A new Gallup poll confirms that Americans' confidence in Congress is at a historic low:
According to Gallup, "The percentage of Americans expressing a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress is the lowest for a trend that dates back to 1973 [the earliest data available]."
Both Democrats and Republicans showed exceptionally low levels of confidence--"the worst Gallup has ever found for any institution it has measured since 1973."
Government is dysfunctional and Americans know it. It's time for radical simplification.Comment ›