Information, ideas, news and commentaries on fixing America’s broken governmental and legal systems.

Resources — Essays & Commentaries

What Broke Washington

This weekend the Washington Post published an op-ed by Philip K. Howard which presents a case for combating government dysfunction. The diagnosis:

I think we have it backward. Polarization is mainly a symptom, not the cause, of paralysis. Democracy has become powerless. Politicians who are impotent have no way to compete except by pointing fingers.

The main culprit, ironically, is law. Generations of lawmakers and regulators have written so much law, in such detail, that officials are barred from acting sensibly. Like sediment in the harbor, law has piled up until it is almost impossible—indeed, illegal—for officials to make choices needed for government to get where it needs to go.

And the solution?

Human responsibility should be restored as the operating philosophy for democracy. Only real people, not bureaucratic rules, can make adjustments to balance a budget, or be fair, or change priorities. Democracy cannot function unless identifiable people can make public choices and be accountable for the results.

Read the full piece here.

A Bridge Too Far: The President Visits the Tappan Zee Bridge

by James R. Maxeiner

At 16,014 feet long, the Tappan Zee Bridge that crosses the Hudson River at Tarrytown is the longest bridge in New York and among the fifty longest bridges in the United States. Although only sixty years old, the bridge has long been in need of replacement. President Obama’s May 14 visit to the Bridge gives us hope for infrastructure approval reform in America even as it reminds us of how far the United States has to go and of how long we must bear the costs of our failures to coordinate approvals.

President Obama touted that through his personal intervention, approval of the replacement bridge had been fast-tracked and that the time required for approval had been cut to one-and-one-half years from the “normal” three to five years (or, he might have added, from the not uncommon decade or longer required for some infrastructure projects, such as the Bayonne Bridge). Fast-tracking does not mean slipshod review; it does mean coordinating and reducing required approvals.

The President announced plans to apply the same strategy to eleven other major infrastructure projects. But that’s not good enough. We need coordinated approval to be the norm for all projects. Three to five years should be the exception, not the rule. Moreover, we need a strategy that coordinates infrastructure projects, period. Why?

NPR this week reported why the Tappan Zee Bridge is so long—crossing the Hudson at one of the river’s widest points. Why not at a narrower point? Because where the river narrows, the bridge—and its lucrative tolls—would have fallen within the jurisdiction of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. Governor Thomas Dewey wanted those tolls instead to raise revenue for highway construction. So the bridge was built, at great expense, at one of the widest points on the Hudson. And this political decision from sixty years ago predetermined where the new bridge is today being built: where the old bridge is, at the river’s widest point.

Governor Dewey’s political decision reminds us that while laws can anticipate the future, they cannot do so perfectly, and need to be updated periodically. In 1921 New York,  New Jersey, and federal laws created the Port Authority to facilitate cooperation between the two states, but they did not fully anticipate the growth of the New York City area over the next thirty years. In 1956, regional highway infrastructure cooperation became national policy when Congress created the Interstate Highway System. But the "bridge too far" had been finished the year before, too late to be moved.

President Obama’a visit reminds us that we should not wait another sixty years for a general coordination of infrastructure approvals.

Momentum Builds to Reform the Regulatory Process

Federal News Radio reports on increasing momentum in Congress toward serious reform of the outdated and costly regulatory process. At a Tuesday hearing, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) noted the dire state of federal regulations:

Each year, well over 70,000 pages of additional regulatory requirements are published in the Federal Register. In the past two decades, the code of federal regulations has expanded by as much as 25 percent to an astounding 180,000 pages. Many of these new rules do represent significant costs to the economy, regularly in excess of $100 million each year... The annual cost of federal regulations now we are estimating at $2 trillion, and this continues to grow substantially.

One reform proposal comes from Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), sponsor of the Regulatory Improvement Act, who pointed out the desperate need to address the accumulation of outdated regulation:

We need to find better ways to ensure we revisit regulations on a regular basis, [Sen.] Roy Blunt and I introduced S. 1390, which basically is a BRAC commission for regulations. The idea is an independent analysis of regulations to come before the Congress with recommendations about whether they should be continued, modified or eliminated. They'd have an expedited process in Congress. This idea, by the way, came from the Progressive Policy Institute, and it's received quite a bit of positive attention.

Common Good strongly supports measures to untangle regulatory and legal detritus. Click to read our proposals for cleaning out obsolete law and overhauling regulation.

Philip K. Howard: Rules Can’t Think: Why Government Needs Radical Simplification

America the Fixable, The Atlantic

Ron Faucheux: What Kills Small Businesses? Let’s Ask Them

America the Fixable, The Atlantic

Enrico Moretti: Here’s One Tax Break All Americans Can Support

America the Fixable, The Atlantic

Nick Hanauer: Rich Americans Aren’t the Real Job Creators

America the Fixable, The Atlantic

Ross DeVol: 5 Non-Partisan Job Creation Ideas That Could Actually Work

America the Fixable, The Atlantic

Heather Boushey: Low Skills Aren’t Causing the Unemployment Crisis

America the Fixable, The Atlantic

Lenny Mendonca: Our Real Employment Challenge

America the Fixable, The Atlantic

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