Opinion research shows the public does not believe government is capable of effectively and efficiently executing its responsibilities. This mistrust is a significant barrier to advancing policies to address even the most popular goals. For attitudes to change, the public first and foremost will have to see government acting responsibly and working to deliver maximum bang for the buck.
The nation’s fiscal health makes this especially urgent. In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced the administration’s intent to freeze discretionary, nonmilitary spending over the next three years. Major challenges in health care, energy, education, and other priority areas may have to be met with little or no additional funding.
This reality demands that government operate efficiently and direct resources where they are needed most and to efforts that generate the greatest returns. We need a government that does what works.
The Center for American Progress is undertaking a new “Doing What Works” project, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation’s Campaign for American Workers, to advance this objective. Specifically, we will generate and promote ideas to:
President Barack Obama has committed to pursuing a “doing what works” agenda. During his inaugural address, he said, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works—whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”
This presidential commitment provides an opportunity. And indeed, a number of important actions have already been taken to find budget savings, boost productivity, and provide greater transparency. Yet administrations have a tendency to become distracted by day-to-day events and political battles. If the Obama administration is the same, government transformation will not reach its full potential. The Doing What Works agenda requires sustained attention and effort over many years.
Congress is also an essential part of the equation. Improving performance evaluation matters little if appropriators ignore the results. Nor are we likely to remedy executive branch disorganization if members of Congress cannot work across their own committee silos.
Congress and the executive branch need to see themselves as partners in transformation. Both must change and work together in new ways to realize the opportunities in front of us. This project intends to identify these opportunities and engage the executive branch and Congress to build a government that does what works.