My reaction upon reading the first few pages of this book was disgust. I had to suppress a strong desire to hurl it across the room. Wait, citizens, hear me out! My disgust has nothing to do with Donald Kettl’s excellent book. It has everything to do with the failure of our discipline even to entertain a full and frank discussion of the issue that Kettl raises: the decline in our nation’s commitment to competence in government programs.
Kettl argues persuasively that the old Progressive consensus that whatever government choses to do (the “what”), it ought to do it well (the “how”) has collapsed. Democrats expanded programs without clear professional models of implementation. They supported privatization and what Kettl terms interweaving—indirect, private sector systems for program implementation to broaden government—but this led to increasing complexity and difficulty in establishing accountability. Republicans found they were unsuccessful in reversing the addition of programs, so they turned to undermining the funding and implementing of these programs, undermining them to cause them to fail. The result was declines in performance leading to increasing skepticism about government’s ability to solve problems.
Kettl sketches four possible paths into the future based on the extent to whic
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