Later On

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Paul Volcker interviewed

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Very interesting interview in the Washington Post, with Neil Irwin asking the questions:

Paul Volcker has spent a lifetime as a public servant, helping guide U.S. economic policy during the Kennedy and Obama administrations and quite a few in between. Now he wants to make public administration in the United States stronger, with a new group aimed at strengthening the quality of American governance called the Volcker Alliance. The former Federal Reserve chairman discussed his new project, and talked a bit of economics, on Wednesday afternoon. Here is a transcript, lightly edited for length and clarity.

Neil Irwin: What do you see as the hole that you’re trying to fill with the new group? Lots of public administration schools and think tanks pay attention to governance.

Paul Volcker: In a way that is part of the problem. Those schools are not as strong as one would like to see them. Public administration has not been in fashion for decades.  Many schools have turned to what they call policy. Everybody likes to talk about big issues of war and peace and how we take care of poor people and what we do about other social problems in the United States or elsewhere.

They do all this talking but they too seldom know how to implement what they’re talking about. I ran into a wonderful quotation from Thomas Edison. He said vision without execution is a hallucination. We have too many hallucinations and not enough execution.

The pattern in the big universities and the prestigious universities is this: They start with good intentions, but they don’t have priority within the universities. They end up — I’ll say politely that they don’t get the attention they should get, nor do they have the confidence to know what they’re teaching. This is a profession that needs shaking by the neck. One of the things some of the schools may not like what I’m about to say is that there’s no real consensus on what a degree in public administration means. What is the content of the curriculum you have been taught? Is it rigorous enough? I think the answer often is that it is not rigorous enough. They do not have statistics analysis, how statistics should be used and abused. What insights can other management techniques of quality control or other matters relevant to CEOs have for public administration? Should there be more on-the-job training, more internships? These are issues that should be explored.

That’s the kind of thing that runs across the gamut. In the bank regulatory area, we have five or six agencies bumping into each other not very constructively. There are similar problems elsewhere. There are big issues of recruitment and management. The federal government is really bad at recruitment. We’re talking about state and local administrations too. One reason I want the thing to be in New York and not Washington is I don’t want it to just be federal. Everybody wants to talk about infrastructure, but do we know how to spend money efficiently and effectively?

We’re going to be a small organization, not a think tank with 30 or 40 people. We will try to be a catalyst. We’ll try to get schools and other organizations together to work together to find solutions

Do you think the idea of public service is viewed differently today than when you were coming of age?

There is no doubt that since around the end of the 19th century, when there were similar problems of big business and corruption in state and local government, into World War I and the 1920s, and even into the ’30s, good government was a thing to talk about. That’s when all these schools of public administration were created. There was a feeling that this can’t be hit or miss. We’ve got to get education about public administration, get reforms made. And reforms were made. It culminated in reform of the federal government in the 1930s. The current administrative structure of government was set in the 1930s, and since then it’s been been hit or miss.

Presidents used to have reorganization authority. He doesn’t have it any more. Should he have it, what should it contain, what should be the limits? We will bring people together to explore those types of questions.

You mention as an area of priority state and municipal government, particularly around budgeting and transparency. What is going wrong in those areas now that you hope to affect? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2013 at 12:50 pm

Posted in Government

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