Doing What Works Annual Report

The Doing What Works project launched in February 2010. This report provides a sampling of the project's accomplishments and a preview of what's ahead.

Child care aid recipient Sarah Comito kisses her son Matthew at their home in Oxnard, California. (AP/Damian Dovarganes)
Child care aid recipient Sarah Comito kisses her son Matthew at their home in Oxnard, California. (AP/Damian Dovarganes)

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A letter from John Podesta

Dear friends,

A year ago the Center for American Progress launched the Doing What Works project to help uncover wasteful spending, boost government productivity, and improve results for the American people.

The White House and Congress have since adopted key elements of our agenda (see box), and we have completed other work that should bear fruit over the coming year, such as a groundbreaking website that maps return-on-investment data for every school district in the country.

We are proud of these accomplishments, but we can’t let up now. I believe this effort is more important than ever as we face the twin challenges of a record-high deficit and a recovering but still fragile economy. Congress and the executive branch will have to make smart decisions about where to cut spending, so that we continue to see growth and job creation while bringing down our long-term deficits. That will require, as President Obama has said, a scalpel, not a hatchet.

We should invest in government programs that work well, that increase American competitiveness and create jobs, and help us reach our goals on critical priorities such as education, health care, infrastructure, and energy. But we should cut programs and efforts that are ineffective, redundant, or low priorities. And we must build a more efficient government by streamlining bureaucracy, reforming procurement, and harnessing information technology. These steps will deliver bigger bang for the buck, precisely what’s needed in a time of constrained resources.

That’s the Doing What Works agenda, set forth in a paper I co-authored one year ago with Reece Rushing, CAP’s Director of Government Reform. Our annual report is organized around the same themes as that paper. It describes the work we’ve done and the progress we’ve made toward our original vision.

We are on our way to building a more effective and efficient federal government. The Doing What Works project is determined to keep the momentum going.


John Podesta
President & CEO
Center for American Progress

Doing What Works highlights

Among the accomplishments described in this report:

  • Congress enacted government performance legislation that follows recommendations we made in a series of reports and articles.
  • President Obama in the State of the Union echoed our proposal to reorganize and modernize government to eliminate unnecessary overlap and boost American competitiveness.
  • President Obama’s 2012 budget embraces CAP recommendations for “social impact bonds,” a public-private financing innovation that will ensure taxpayers only pay for social programs that meet performance targets and generate good outcomes. The administration plans to test these bonds in seven areas, including education, job training, and juvenile justice.
  • CAP launched a groundbreaking new website that provides return-on-investment data for nearly every school district in the country, driving a conversation about public sector productivity. School districts are beginning to respond to our findings.
  • The Doing What Works team released a report estimating the federal government could save $400 billion over 10 years by reforming the way it buys goods and services. The Obama administration has taken steps that mirror our recommendations.
  • CAP commissioned major new public opinion research that examined attitudes on government waste and performance. The public enthusiastically supports the Doing What Works agenda and seems likely to reward political leaders who advance it. Our results were studied within the administration and on the Hill.
  • CAP convened in July a Doing What Works conference attended by more than 200 government performance leaders and featuring an all-star lineup, including Cabinet secretaries Shaun Donovan and Gary Locke, Federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients, Sen. Mark Warner, and former D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, among others. Vice President Biden also provided a video address for the conference.

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