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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 ›
Yesterday the Trump administration embraced elements of Common Good's infrastructure plan, in an executive order aimed at streamlining approvals. The order echoes our earlier proposal to give the chair of the CEQ the responsibility to speed up important projects by designating certain projects “high priority” based on “consideration of the project's importance to the general welfare, value to the Nation, [and] environmental benefits[.]”
The White House press release describing the executive order referred to the findings of our “Two Years, Not Ten Years” report, stating that “[a]ccording to one study, our antiquated power [grid] wastes the equivalent of 200 coal-fired power plants, water pipes leak trillions of gallons of water, and gridlock on roads and railroads wastes hundreds of billions annually.”
Senate Democrats also endorsed the need to streamline approvals in their blueprint, released yesterday, to spend $1T on infrastructure.Comment ›
For the cover story of their January/February 2017 issue, Right of Way magazine reprinted the majority of Common Good’s May 2016 report “Billions for Red Tape: Focusing on the Approval Process for the Gateway Rail Tunnel Project.”
“Billions for Red Tape” shows that improved permitting for Gateway—a $24 billion infrastructure plan to alleviate a critical bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor—would save taxpayers billions and avoid significant environmental harm. It proposes approval mechanisms to reduce the cost and enhance the environmental benefits of the project.
The report supplements an earlier Common Good report released in September 2015: “Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals.”Comment ›
UPDATE: Click on the images below to watch video of the event. Selected clips will be made available in the coming days.
Panel 1: Getting Moving on Infrastructure
Panel 2: Rethinking Executive Authority and Congressional Oversight
Panel 3: Re-Imagining Regulatory Reform
Products distributed at and coming out of the event include:
- Forum agenda and biographies
- Philip Howard’s December 14 op-ed in the Washington Post on what President Trump could do to finally tame the red tape monster
- An animated video—titled “Draining the Swamp”—on the benefits of regulation by results
- Common Good’s draft legislation to implement the proposals from our September 2015 “Two Years, Not Ten Years” infrastructure report
- Speaker Gingrich discussing the forum on his December 14 appearance on FOX News (begins at the 4:35 mark)
On December 14, Common Good and Covington & Burling LLP will hold a morning forum discussing regulatory reform in the Trump administration.
The event will have three panels: 1) getting moving on infrastructure; 2) re-imagining regulatory reform; and 3) rethinking executive authority and congressional oversight.
Participants include (list in formation):
Oren Cass, Manhattan Institute
Christopher DeMuth, Hudson Institute
Susan E. Dudley, George Washington University
E. Donald Elliott, Covington & Burling; Yale Law School
Daniel M. Flores, Chief Counsel, House Subcomm. on Reg. Reform
William A. Galston, Brookings Institution
Hon. Newt Gingrich
Jason Grumet, Bipartisan Policy Center
Frederick M. Hess, American Enterprise Institute
Philip K. Howard, Common Good
Richard G. Kidd IV, Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council
Brink Lindsey, Cato Institute
Will Marshall, Progressive Policy Institute
Diana C. Mendes, HNTB Corporation
Paul Noe, American Forest & Paper Association
Michael Schmidt, former economic policy advisor to Hillary Clinton
David Schoenbrod, New York Law School
John Veroneau, Covington & Burling
Philip A. Wallach, Brookings Institution
Title: Drain the Swamp? Regulatory Reform Under President Trump
When: Wednesday, December 14, 2016; 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM, with informal lunch after; registration and breakfast begin at 8:15 AM.
Where: Covington & Burling LLP; 10th Floor; One CityCenter; 850 Tenth Street, NW; Washington, DC 20001
To RSVP, 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. All attendees must register before the day of the event.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 ›
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 ›
UPDATE: The News-Gazette has written an editorial in support of Illinois’ red tape initiative. An excerpt:
To demonstrate the seriousness of his commitment, Gov. Rauner brought lawyer and author Philip Howard to the news conference announcing this initiative. Since writing the book "The Death of Common Sense" in the early 1990s, Howard has been a consistent crusader for common sense regulation, which ought not be confused with little or no regulation.
In his original book and since then, Howard presented a persuasive case demonstrating how harmful and suffocating ill-conceived regulations can be to the common good. To the extent this is a problem in Illinois, it must be addressed.
In that context, it's good Gov. Rauner has taken this step. It'll be even better if it's successful.
Click here to read the full editorial.
On October 17, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner announced an initiative to cut red tape across Illinois' regulatory agencies, quoting Common Good Chair Philip Howard on the urgent necessity. His administration has asked Common Good to act as informal adviser to this effort. The Governor seeks to save Illinoisans at least $250 million in direct license fee costs over the next decade and save taxpayers and business owners at least four million pages in paperwork. The initial report is due next May.
Click here to read a press release on the initiative from the Office of the Governor.
Click here to read Governor Rauner's executive order creating the Illinois Competitiveness Council.
Click here to read a Chicago Daily Herald article about the initiative.
And click the image below to watch Philip Howard’s remarks at the launch event:
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 ›
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 ›
UPDATE: Common Good’s video on the need to expedite approval of the Gateway Rail Tunnel Project has received significant media coverage, including from NJ.com and the Washington Post. The Washington Post’s Fredrick Kunkle interviewed Common Good’s Philip Howard about the reasoning behind the video, and the need to reform America’s infrastructure approval process:
‘We need to create a critical mass of public pressure to make sure that at the end of the meeting, someone says, “Okay, let’ s move forward and do this, instead of having another meeting. ”
Howard said that another reason for the delay is that the public works approval process has been hijacked—sometimes by opponents, and sometimes by proponents who fear being sued by opponents. Their battleground has become the environmental impact review or concerns that bulldozers will raze history.
‘Everyone’s gaming the system,’ Howard said. ‘The environmental review, in my opinion, is an extraordinarily important component of decision-making. But it was intended to take months, not a decade. It was intended to focus the important environmental issues, not overturning every pebble.’
You can read the full piece here.
ORIGINAL POST: Common Good today released a three-minute animated video highlighting the need to expedite approval of the proposed Gateway Rail Tunnel Project under the Hudson River. The video—“Transportation Armageddon”—was created for Common Good by Alex Marino, a former writer for “The Daily Show.” It incorporates his humor and perspective in discussing a crucial issue: the need to prevent unnecessary financial and environmental costs from delay of the Project. Click the image below to watch the video:
Download the press release on the video here.
Click here to read Common Good’s May 2016 report on the Gateway Project, “Billions for Red Tape.”Comment ›