Blog — Government
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 ›
The co-chairs of Common Good’s “Who’s in Charge Around Here?” campaign have appeared on TV and radio in the past few days to discuss the effort and, in particular, the need for it.
On Friday, campaign co-chair Philip Howard appeared on CNBC’s “Power Lunch,” arguing: “Americans are frustrated, but it’s like punching a pillow, because Washington is this giant hairball of accumulated regulations that prevent everybody, even the President, from [getting anything done].”
Click the image below to watch a five-minute clip of the interview.
On Monday, former Senator Bill Bradley, the other campaign co-chair, appeared with former Governor Tom Kean, a campaign endorser, on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.” “We have a lot of talk about the problems we face as a country, but there’s no coherent plan to fix Washington,” said Bradley. “And what we’re trying to do is lay out a plan to fix Washington ….”
Click the image below to listen to the 23-minute interview.Comment ›
Writing in the Huffington Post this week, former Senator Bill Bradley and Common Good Chair Philip Howard argue that what’s missing from the current campaign season is a coherent plan to fix Washington:
Americans want change. But without a clear mandate a fresh face in the White House won’t have a chance against entrenched bureaucracy and special interests. It wasn’t long ago that we elected the freshest candidate in memory, running with the slogan ‘Change we can believe in.’ Washington just plowed ahead in the same direction.
Voter anger is too unfocused to drive change. It’s like punching a pillow. Fix Broken Government! OK, what does that mean? Let’s fill Congress with better people—say, clones of Washington, Hamilton, Lincoln, and Howard Baker. What’s our vision of what they would do?
Senator Bradley and Howard go on to discuss the campaign launched this week—titled “Who’s in Charge Around Here?,” and of which they’re co-chairs—to fill this void:
Our vision for fixing broken government is simple: Clean out the bureaucratic jungle so everyone—regulators and regulated alike—can use common sense. From the schoolhouse to the White House, replace mindless bureaucracy with human responsibility and accountability.
Reforming specific programs is not enough. Washington needs a change in its operating philosophy. Simplify regulation so people can understand what’s required. Leave room for people to roll up their sleeves and make sense of things. People must be free to ask in each situation: What’s the right thing to do here?
Read the full essay here.
And click the image below to watch the campaign’s first video, “Put Humans in Charge”:Comment ›
Common Good today launched a national bipartisan campaign—called “Who’s in Charge Around Here?”—to build support for basic overhaul of the federal government. The campaign, which has been endorsed by leaders from both political parties, will show how to remake government into simple frameworks that allow people to take charge again. Rules should lay out goals and general principles—like the 15-page Constitution—and not suffocate responsibility with thousand-page instruction manuals.
The campaign is co-chaired by former US Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) and Common Good Chair Philip Howard. Among those who have already endorsed the campaign are former Governors Mitch Daniels (R-IN) and Tom Kean (R-NJ), and former US Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) who co-chaired the Simpson-Bowles Commission on government reform.
The campaign will use video and social media to drive a national conversation to return to Americans the freedom to let ingenuity and innovation thrive in their daily lives. The campaign’s first three-minute video, narrated by Stockard Channing, uses white-board animations to explain how government should work. Titled “Put Humans in Charge,” you can watch the video by clicking on the image below:
Americans know that common sense has taken a backseat to stupidity, but political debate has not drawn a clear link to suffocating legal structures. The campaign features “The Stupid List” showing how obsolete and over-prescriptive bureaucracy undermines infrastructure and the environment, schools, health care, jobs and the economy. The Stupid List is available here.
We would appreciate your feedback or suggestions—you can e-mail us at TakeCharge@commongood.org.Comment ›
In March, Inc. magazine organized a roundtable discussion with small business owners about the regulations that affect their businesses. Common Good’s Philip Howard moderated the conversation, which is summarized by Inc.'s Editor-at-Large Leigh Buchanan in their July/August issue.
One of the participants, who heads a winery, discussed a federal rule that limits where he can sell his product if it contains grapes from “‘noncontiguous’ states.” Inc. relates:
This rule exists, suggests Howard, to protect vested interests. But, he adds, 'it looks like [rules governing the wine industry] exist only because someone made them up that way 80 years ago.'
That could be said of tens of thousands of governmental rules that appear arbitrary, irrational, or outdated. Unfortunately, the list is only growing. Roughly 3,400 federal regulations were issued in 2015, 545 of which directly affect small business, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The Office of Management and Budget reports that another 3,000 are on course for this year. Entrepreneurs are, or soon could be, grappling with new federal and state rules related to—among other things—overtime, sick leave, health care reporting, employee retirement plans, independent contractors, lead dust in commercial buildings, and website accessibility for the disabled. The most recent academic paper on the topic released by the Small Business Administration's Office of Public Advocacy—in 2010—reports that per-employee regulatory costs for small companies are 36 percent higher than those for large ones.
The problem is not regulation per se, the roundtable participants agreed—entrepreneurs “want to do the right thing for their employees, their customers, and the environment,” Inc. writes—but that the growing mass of—oftentimes obsolete, conflicting—regulations prevent growth with no accompanying benefit:
Every time your business is prevented from doing something or you choose not to do something because the government makes it difficult, there is an opportunity cost. According to the Paychex survey, concern over regulation had dissuaded 39 percent of respondents from entering a new market, 36 percent from introducing a new product, and 25 percent from starting a particular kind of business.
The Inc. article ends by offering five reform proposals to “build a smarter, less restrictive regulatory system”—these include: allowing new business “breathing room” in addressing minor regulations; treating “disrupters” differently than established industries; regulating by principles as opposed to precise specifics; cleaning out obsolete regulations; and empowering regulators to use their common sense.
Common Good has long-advocated for these last three ideas. On the proposal to allow regulators to exercise discretion, Inc. writes:
‘America is run by dead people,’ says Howard. ‘The people who wrote those rules are dead, so you can't argue with them or hold them accountable.’ Some regulations date back 60 years, so it is vital that live human beings have the power to interpret them, says Howard. In general, those who enforce the rules should be encouraged to exercise their best judgment depending on the situation. All too often, regulators and inspectors are conditioned to say no, because that’s the safe bet.
Click here to read the Inc. article in full.Comment ›
Common Good will host two events on improving infrastructure approvals in the coming weeks. The first, on Monday, May 9th in New York City, will center around the release of our new report: “Billions for Red Tape: Focusing on the Approval Process for the Gateway Rail Tunnel Project.” The event will feature remarks from Senator Cory Booker followed by a moderated panel.
On Thursday, May 19th in Washington, DC, we will co-host an event with the Progressive Policy Institute and Covington & Burling LLP as part of Infrastructure Week (www.infrastructureweek.org). It will include remarks from Senator Tom Carper, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, current and former members of the Obama Administration, and experts from other countries. A full listing of confirmed panelists can be found on Common Good’s website here.
To RSVP for either event, please e-mail your name, position, affiliation, and contact information to Ruth Mary Giverin of Common Good at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact Ruth with any questions as well. This invitation is transferable, but all attendees must register before the day of the event.
Title: Billions for Red Tape
Time: Monday, May 9, 2016; 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM; cocktails and appetizers will be served.
Where: The New York Times Building; 43rd Floor (offices of Covington & Burling LLP); 620 Eighth Avenue (between 40th and 41st Streets); New York, NY 10018 (A government-issued ID is required to pass through building security.)
Senator Cory Booker
Patrick J. Foye, Executive Director,
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Philip K. Howard, Chair, Common Good
Robert D. Yaro, President Emeritus, Regional Plan Association
Description: The Gateway Rail Tunnel Project is a $24 billion infrastructure plan to alleviate a critical bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor, an area of the country that accounts for 20 percent of national GDP. The purpose of the report and event is to outline the economic and environmental costs of different permitting timetables, and to propose approval mechanisms that will save taxpayers billions and avoid significant economic and environmental harm.
Title: How Faster Infrastructure Approvals Can Get America Moving Again
Time: Thursday, May 19, 2016; 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM, with lunch to follow; registration and breakfast begin at 8:15 AM.
Where: Covington & Burling LLP, 10th Floor, One CityCenter, 850 Tenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001
Senator Tom Carper (D-DE)
Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-CT)
Jason S. Miller, White House National Economic Council
Angela F. Colamaria, White House Office of
Management and Budget
Gary S. Guzy, Covington & Burling; formerly of CEQ and EPA
Philip K. Howard, Common Good
Fawn Johnson, Morning Consult
Deron Lovaas, Natural Resources Defense Council
Will Marshall, Progressive Policy Institute
Philip D. Moeller, Edison Electric Institute; formerly of the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
John D. Porcari, Parsons Brinckerhoff; formerly of the
US Department of Transportation
Sophie Shulman, US Department of Transportation
Prof. Dr. Andrea Versteyl, National Regulatory Control Council
Description: Even as the nation’s needs grow more acute, it takes longer and longer to win government approval to build modern infrastructure. Getting permits can take a decade or longer. Other countries manage to get projects up and running in less time. We are convening this discussion to build common understanding of how government reviews can combine rigorous public oversight with expeditious approvals of projects that can save money, create jobs, boost US productivity, achieve a greener footprint, and restore public confidence in the public sector.Comment ›
As part of their recently-released “Policy Playbook for America's Next President”—and in particular as a prescription to create 25 million new jobs over the next decade—the reform organization No Labels included Common Good policy proposals on streamlining infrastructure approvals and requiring judges to act as gatekeepers. The playbook provides:
Idea 27: Streamline Infrastructure Approvals
About the Policy
To accelerate the construction of important infrastructure, the federal government should designate officials to streamline the regulatory process for infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges and highways.
Idea 32: Require Judges to Act as Gatekeepers
About the Policy
In order to restore fairness and reliability to the American justice system, give judges more responsibility to dismiss unreasonable lawsuit claims.
Common Good calls for empowering officials to expedite infrastructure reviews in our September 2015 report “Two Years, Not Ten Years.” Philip Howard has written on the effects of legal fear—and the role judges should play to combat it—for decades. (Read selected essays of his here and here.)
No Labels solicited these proposals from Common Good earlier this year. They then polled registered voters about them in February and March and found 75% and 81% support, respectively.
The policy playbook also calls for sunsets on regulations—which Common Good has long advocated for laws as well (see Philip Howard’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed “The Crippling Hold of Old Law”)—and also raises the problems of fee-for-service healthcare, defensive medicine, and other issues of concern to Common Good. You can access all 60 proposals here.