Last night I attended a showing of the documentary “IOUSA” featuring former Comptroller General David Walker. The film was done before the financial bailout crisis, plunge in the markets, and recession. And it was scary. It describes how the country has created $55 Trillion in unfunded commitments – in pension benefits, healthcare, etc. – that future generations are being saddled with.
This made me think of an issue paper I drafted some months ago for the National Academy for Public Administration’s project assessing the management capacity of the President in facing 21st century challenges. The paper, “Governing with Foresight: Institutional Changes to Enhance Fact-Based Decision-Making in the Executive Office of the President,” explores several potential approaches the new Administration might take to create some forward-looking capacity and action-taking institutions rather than just responding to immediate crises. The idea is that governing with such approaches might forstall the prediction of impending fiscal doom. Quickly, here are the highlights:
Create a Compelling Context. The paper summarizes steps taken so far to create a broader public understanding of the context in which public officials need to act – like the IOUSA movie – but more comprehensive. This is being done by a non-profit, State of the USA, which is creating an interactive website of key national indicators that will show our country’s progress on a number of dimensions (such as life expectancy) when compared to other countries or over time or by different parts of the country. This can serve as a fact-based, non-partisan source of objective information. It is scheduled to be launched in early 2009.
Create Action Plans. There have been calls in recent years by the Government Accountability Office to craft a national strategic plan. This has fallen on deaf ears, but there have been successful efforts in recent years to craft specific plans around key national outcomes, such as a National Security Strategy and a National Homeland Security Strategy. This may be a more pragmatic approach than a comprehensive government-wide plan (and feel a lot less Soviet in approach).
Establish a Way to Act on Plans That Reach Across Government. Some states and localities have created “State-Stat,” or “Citi-Stat” mechanisms that governors and mayors use as a way to get action on priorities that reach across state or city agencies. There have been proposals to create a White House-based “Fed-Stat” or “Performance-Stat” to ensure focus and commitment to action on key national strategies.
President-elect Obama has already committed to creating a chief performance officer, possibly someone who would head a National Performance Council to oversee a “Performance-Stat” effort. The pressing issues he’ll face – along with the need to engage citizens in solving these issues (see yesterday’s blog entry) may be one approach to address the issues raised in the IOUSA movie.