Center for American Progress

We Need a System for Designing and Evaluating Effective Government Programs
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We Need a System for Designing and Evaluating Effective Government Programs

A new CAP report proposes a kind of advance-warning system to help policymakers distinguish between programs with a high chance of success from those likely to run into problems down the line.

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Less than one-third of Americans have confidence that the federal government can solve problems, according to a recent Center for American Progress survey. The sentiment may be worse at the state level. The Pew Center on the States recently found that less than 20 percent of respondents in California, Illinois, and New York trusted their state governments.

What accounts for such widespread frustration?

It’s not just the economy. As Vice President Joe Biden has said, there’s a feeling across America that “Washington, right now, is broken.”

And in some ways, it is.

Washington for years has been shooting at big targets and continues to miss the mark. After spending more than $1 billion, the government last month scrapped a troubled “virtual border” plan plagued for years by cost overruns and delays. In preparation for the 2010 Census, the Commerce Department spent two years developing handheld computers to replace millions of costly forms and maps used by field workers. The initiative failed and workers reverted to pen and paper.

At the root of such failures is faulty design. The way public policy is designed today results in programs that sound good in hearings but don’t work in the real world. "The Secret to Programs That Work," a new CAP report by Jitinder Kohli, William D. Eggers, and John Griffith, diagnoses common design flaws, and proposes a kind of advance-warning system to help policymakers distinguish between programs with a high chance of success from those likely to run into problems down the line.

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