What our experts say . . . Advice for President Obama
From public service and good government, to energy, science and environmental protection; from better health policy – and a healthier America, to making the arts a national priority; tax policy, cybersecurity and prisons…SPEA professors address issues of national and international importance, and offer their suggestions to the President.
Imagine you're sharing an elevator ride with President Barack Obama, and he asks your advice – about something you’ve spent your professional career studying.
That’s the challenge IU’s e-newsletter, “Perspectives on Policy,” posed to a number of IU faculty members – 12 of them from SPEA – including experts in health care, energy, education, the environment, technology, economic and tax policy, and other fields. Their responses – varied in tone and content, are without exception thoughtful and passionate.
The authors of these “elevator speeches” write with deep awareness of the difficulties facing the new administration, acknowledging that the President’s job is both the most important and the most difficult job in the world. Yet they get right to the task, offering a range of ideas:
• Boost consumer spending by using federal funds to reduce state sales taxes.
• Use the power of technology to improve citizens’ health, not just the health care system.
• Take advantage of the global interest in learning English to help young Americans engage with the world.
• Reach out to China and India, the world’s most populous countries, to tackle climate change.
• Create an Arts Corps of people to share the experience of having one’s life changed by art.
Many of the suggestions are analytical and policy oriented, others are direct and personal.
The experts urge Obama to heed expertise, and they take heart from his inaugural promise to “restore science to its rightful place.”
“But we need to value science for what it can teach us about uncertainty, as well as for its ability to reduce uncertainty,” writes conservation biologist Vicky Meretsky. Science, she adds, can provide strategies for “weathering surprises, reducing damage and hastening recovery.”
The fact is that some of this advice has already found its way to the new president, where at least some of it has been heard and implemented.
• Lisa Bingham served on Obama’s Urban Policy Committee/Collaborative Governance Task Force, which produced white papers for the campaign. On his first day in office, President Obama signed an executive order on transparency and openness in government, which reflected the group’s input.
• Leslie Lenkowsky shared his views on whether national service should be expanded on Monday at a Washington, D.C., symposium sponsored by the Hudson Institute.
For all the range and depth of the advice that we’ve gathered, it only scratches the surface of Indiana University policy expertise – and of the issues facing the Obama administration.
Even so, we believe these contributions should spark productive discussions by policy makers and by citizens. As you read them, we urge you to share the comments that strike you as true and important. Send them to your neighbors. Send them to your congressman or congresswoman. Yes, send them to your president.
Mr. President, are you listening?
Matthew R. Auer
Reach out to the Asian powers.
Make a breakthrough with China and India on the problem of climate change. China and India have the power to neutralize – or alternatively, reinforce – anything good that comes from America’s efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions.
David Gergen, the famous Washington insider, describes your calm demeanor, President Obama, as a kind of “Aloha Zen.” That zenlike bearing – karmic but unflinchingly goal-oriented – will serve you well in your dealings with Asian counterparts.
On the climate change problem, coaxing cooperation from China and India will require persistence, but also a diplomatic strategy unlike any previously tried. The old approach, heavy on demands and moral obligations, doesn’t work particularly well. The new approach must offer nothing less than glory to China and India – recognition not only for their sacrifices, but also their ingenuity and pre-eminence. Yes, China and India will continue to demand financial assistance, transferrable technologies, and targets and timetables for emissions reduction that are less stringent than those binding most OECD countries. But bragging rights mean a lot to China and India, too.
Ironically, since it is not a contracting party to the Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. is in a relatively strong position to negotiate with China and India. The U.S. can say, “The world perceives us to be laggards in dealing with global warming. Let’s nullify that view, in a dramatic fashion.” Chinese and Indian universities graduate hundreds of thousands of engineers each year. There are millions of well-equipped, would-be problem-solvers in these two countries. Already, China has emerged as the technological leader in solar energy research and development.
Your plans for overhauling energy policy are more ambitious than any of your predecessors. But you need strong partners overseas to ensure lasting benefits for the U.S. and the world. Enlisting China and India as lead partners is vital to that end.
Matthew R. Auer is a professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and dean of the Hutton Honors College, Indiana University.
A. James Barnes
The U.S. has a moral duty to lead.
At the same time the world is confronting a serious decline in the global economy, as well as loss of confidence in the financial system, its emissions of greenhouse gases are on a trajectory to accelerate changes in our climate with potentially disastrous effects on human welfare, ecosystems and international security. The coincidence of these two global-scale problems, with their solutions seen by some as irreconcilably in conflict, represents both a challenge – and an opportunity – to you as president.
As the nation with the highest per capita carbon emissions, the United States has a moral duty to both set a good example – and provide enlightened leadership to foster concerted action among the community of nations – to effectively stabilize the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and to mitigate the impact of global climate change. Life on Earth as we know it cannot be sustained if the rest of the world even approaches our per capita emission levels. We need a technological revolution to avert the consequences of long-term global warming, and our leadership and resources are crucial to creating that revolution.
Your policies should provide incentives for, and facilitate the development and rapid utilization of, clean, renewable sources of energy and more energy-efficient technologies and practices. Concomitantly, existing subsidies should be removed from energy-inefficient technologies and practices. Moreover, the developing world should be included in demonstration projects. The emergence of cost-effective options will speed acceptance and utilization of such technologies – and increase people’s willingness to agree to the limits those technologies will make possible.
As the old Indian saying goes, the earth is not inherited from our fathers, but is borrowed from our children. Your leadership is critical to putting us on a path to pass a viable earth on to all the children of the world. It’s the “change we need.”
A. James Barnes is a professor of public and environmental affairs and professor of law. He is former dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs..
Lisa Blomgren Bingham
Redefine public participation in government.
Congratulations on your election, and congratulations on the Presidential Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. As your administration already realizes, the laws on how government engages the public predate the Internet. They date back to a time when agencies viewed letting the public into the policy process as a necessary evil, a check on their abuse of power imposed by Congress. Some laws, like the Federal Advisory Committee Act, were adopted to limit agencies’ ability to collaborate with stakeholders from the private and nonprofit sector.
The time has come to revamp administrative law. We need to redefine public participation throughout federal law so that we encourage agencies to use every form of face-to-face dialogue and online communication to get the best ideas on the table. This means not just the knowledge of experts, but also the wisdom and values of citizens and stakeholders who deliberate on our challenges and potential solutions. We need to build collaboration into the U.S. Code. Right now, the word appears nowhere in the Administrative Procedure Act, even though there has been a tremendous growth in networks, contracts, public-private partnerships, and other structures through which agencies collaborate with others to get the public’s work done. Laws always lag behind practice. When they do, they can get in the way of innovation and become barriers to the best thinking. We need every idea we can get, given the mess we are in. Let’s make it easier. Let’s design a legal framework for agencies and the public as partners in governance in the 21st Century.
Lisa Blomgren Bingham is the Keller-Runden Professor of Public Service at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA). She recently served on the Civic Engagement Subcommittee of the Urban Policy Committee for the Obama Campaign.
Reinvest in re-entry.
We can’t afford not to. Perhaps the most critical criminal justice issue that Congress and the administration will face is prisoner re-entry. As a senator, Mr. President, you co-sponsored the Reducing Recidivism and Second Chance Act of 2007 (SCA). This legislation provides re-entry services to adult and juvenile offenders and their families. This was a good first step. However, greater coordination of effort and resources are needed to provide state and local governments the appropriate technical assistance and seed money to implement and institutionalize effective re-entry programs.
The SCA is slated to receive $65 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2009. This is not enough to provide the programmatic elements necessary for successful reintegration (e.g., employment and educational assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victims support, etc.). Do the math. State and federal prisons release 700,000 individuals each year. Divide the dollars appropriated for the SCA for FY2009 by 700,000. This results in an expenditure of $92.85 per ex-offender. None of the needs identified above can be met in any meaningful way for that amount of money. Such a pedestrian attempt to assess federal investment in re-entry may be unfair. Unfortunately, queries to think tanks, non-profit organizations, and government agencies failed to produce an exact dollar amount invested by the federal government for re-entry.
There are nearly 2.3 million Americans (not counting juveniles) behind bars today, and jails and prisons don’t offer much rehabilitation. Almost all (97 percent) of these prisoners are getting out and will live in our neighborhoods; roughly two-thirds are re-arrested within three years of release. Given all of this, my advice is to work with Congress to reinvest in re-entry. Such “reinvestment” would include drastically increasing the SCA’s annual appropriation, identifying re-entry as its own purpose area in Byrne Formula Grants; requiring states that are granted federal reentry pass-through dollars to map their re-entry networks, assets and gaps in services before receiving funds; implementing transitional job programs, eliminating most bans on federal benefits for persons with criminal histories (e.g., public housing, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, financial aid for students); and pressuring states to revisit their restrictions on aid.
Why do this? We can’t afford not to. Helping ex-offenders succeed helps us all.
Crystal Garcia is an associate professor of criminal justice, law and public safety in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
Make AmeriCorps better, not bigger.
During your campaign, you called for increasing AmeriCorps, the nation’s principal national service program, from its current level of 75,000 positions to 250,000 over five years. Engaging more Americans in community service is a worthy goal (and John McCain supported it, too), but expanding AmeriCorps is not the only – and may not be the best – way to do it.
When it began in 1993, AmeriCorps had two principal aims. One was to address urgent social problems, such as homelessness and failing schools, by enlisting young people to serve for a year or two as tutors, mentors, health care aides, and in other roles with charities throughout the United States. The other was to foster a lifetime commitment to civic activity among those who participated in the program.
After 15 years, the evidence that AmeriCorps is achieving either objective is slim.
Some organizations that use AmeriCorps members, most notably Teach for America, can demonstrate real results, such as improvements in reading or math by children in classes taught by participants in the program. But these organizations tend to be highly selective, recruiting volunteers at the best colleges and universities, and invest heavily in training them. That is not the case for most groups that employ AmeriCorps members, nor have they much proof of what they are accomplishing.
A long-term study of AmeriCorps members has shown that they are more likely to stay active in community life than their peers. But since joining AmeriCorps is voluntary, those who did so were more civic-minded to start with. As a result, how much difference their service in AmeriCorps made is hard to tell.
This record (or lack thereof) suggests that at the very least, the Obama administration should concern itself with the quality of the AmeriCorps program, not just the quantity of AmeriCorps positions. It should also recognize that over 60 million Americans volunteer each year, including more than three million who give over 10 hours per week, the minimum amount required of AmeriCorps members. Helping the nation’s charities make better use of the volunteers they already have should be as high a priority for the Obama administration as expanding AmeriCorps.
Not least important, your administration should encourage the nation’s schools – colleges and universities, as well as elementary and secondary – to do a better job educating young people for citizenship. If students do not understand the events and principles on which the United States was built (and there is plenty of evidence they do not), they are apt to be less willing to make the sacrifices – including volunteering and serving in AmeriCorps – necessary to extend and preserve them.
Leslie Lenkowsky is director of graduate programs for the Center on Philanthropy at IUPUI, as well as a professor of public affairs and philanthropic studies. He served as CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the parent organization of AmeriCorps, from 2001 to 2003.
Help scientists educate about uncertainty
As we begin to pick up the reins of responsible stewardship of the environment, science will be important, and you’ve already made it clear that you value science for the information it can offer. But we need to learn to value science for what it can teach us about uncertainty, as well as for its ability to reduce uncertainty. If economists are wrong about the economy (it has been known to happen), the public is upset, but seems to understand that global economics is a complex picture that can surprise us. The same public, faced with surprises in its environment, often decides that science is useless, self-serving, or worse. Help scientists to educate the public about uncertainty, and help us to show the public (including Congress!) that science can provide strategies for weathering surprises: for reducing damage and hastening recovery. Just as we need Americans to help rebuild the nation in so many other ways, we need Americans to be informed participants in using and protecting our natural resources in the face of climate change, increased development pressures and other threats.
Vicky Meretsky is an associate professor and conservation biologist in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
James L. Perry
Improving performance: Get it right.
During the campaign you promised to create a high-performance government. You followed your campaign promise with quick action by designating a Chief Performance Officer (CPO)*, whose responsibilities are to help improve government efficiency and enhance programs’ accountability for performance. The idea of making government performance a high priority is laudable. But we have been here before. In 1961 – the year you were born – Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara brought a group of whiz kids to Washington who introduced an array of efficiency and effectiveness-enhancing techniques. Every president since Lyndon Johnson promised to create a high-performance government, took actions based on their promises, and, judging by your assessments, achieved the same disappointing results.
Here’s my advice as you embark on the path to high-performance government.
• Consult a diverse group of scholars, current and former feds, and representatives from other governments, the nonprofit community and the private sector for insights about why government performance falls short of expectations. Careful reflection about sources of past failures (including lofty expectations raised by presidential rhetoric) is essential to avoid repeating them.
• Be prepared to invest in government, including its information and Web-based systems, recruitment of professional talent and senior executives, and staff training and development. The old adage that “you get what you pay for” is confirmed repeatedly in post-mortems of the deaths of federal change initiatives.
• Although bureaucrats are often blamed for government’s poor performance, the buck stops with you, Mr. President, and with Congress. You and Congress need to work together to assure that government programs are well designed, appropriately resourced, and effectively led.
*On January 7, President Obama designated Nancy Killefer, an executive at McKinsey & Co, as his choice to become the first CPO. Ms. Killefer, citing tax problems, withdrew from consideration on February 3.
James L. Perry is a distinguished professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. He has been studying government performance since the 1970s, when he led a major assessment of the effectiveness of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.
Require health insurance to cover contraceptives.
tion drugs, but many insurance companies deny coverage for contraceptives. Twenty-seven states require insurers to cover Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive drugs and devices, but 19 states allow some employers and insurers to opt-out. These inconsistent laws mean that many women who have health insurance are forced to pay out-of-pocket for their contraceptives.
An annual supply of contraceptives typically costs less than $500, but systematically excluding a class of legal prescription products is unfair. It is unfair for women who rely on these products for family planning, and it is especially unfair to low-income women. There is precedent for this type of federal insurance regulation. In 1996, Congress passed mandates for coverage for maternity care and mental health services. The scope of the mental health provision was expanded in 2008. A bipartisan coalition of senators and representatives has introduced legislation since 1997 that would force insurance companies to pay for contraceptives. You were a co-sponsor of this legislation in 2005 and 2007.
Studies have documented that companies that add contraceptive coverage save money from unintended pregnancies. Why have we been debating this policy for a decade? The evidence is clear: mandating insurance coverage for contraceptives would save money and address an important women’s health concern. I urge you to include family planning services as a key component of your health system reform plan.
Nicole Quon is the director of the Center for Research in Energy and the Environment (CREE) and a professor of environmental science at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
Support research: heed its results.
My advice would be to actually listen to the scientific community on a wide variety of issues such as energy, environmental protection, and health care. We have endured eight years during which scientific information was not only ignored but often was manipulated or distorted for political purposes. You have selected some absolutely outstanding scientists in several cabinet and other high-level positions. Give them responsibility, give them authority, and listen to them.
We know that our climate is changing and we know that humans are greatly influencing our global environment, but more research is needed for both mitigation of, and adaptation to, these impacts. We know that we need increased energy efficiency, alternative energy resources, and more energy conservation, but more research is needed for reducing environmental impacts from energy development, developing new and more efficient energy technologies and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. We know that we need more accessible, more affordable, and more advanced health care, but more research is needed in medical sciences, developing medical technologies and treatments, and improving the economics and management of health care delivery.
Support this research and listen to the research results.
J.C. Randolph is the director of the Center for Research in Energy and the Environment (CREE) and a professor of environmental science at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
The time is right to invest ini energy.
n your campaign, energy was a high-profile topic. Some have suggested that you may have to compromise your goals, however, because of the ailing economy. In fact, this may be the ideal time be aggressive on the energy front, but proceed carefully.
First, the caution: You cannot spend yourself rich. In a sagging economy you might be tempted to fund public programs just to put people to work. But that only makes sense if the work they do is productive.
Second, the opportunity: A slow economy presents new opportunities. The resources we need for important public endeavors – e.g., labor, materials, and equipment – are now available at a much lower cost than in the recent past. We should take advantage of this opportunity to pursue long overdue improvements in our energy infrastructure, technology, and human capital. The electricity industry desperately needs to upgrade its transmission system to provide better access to wind power and more security in supply. We need to develop better technologies in the area of renewable energy. And, as the energy sector undergoes massive changes in the next couple decades, we will need a work force that is up to the challenge. Now is a good time to adopt programs to provide support for infrastructure upgrades, technology research, and support for education and training. But those programs must be carefully designed to ensure that the investments are well-spent in areas that will increase our productive capacity.
Ken Richards is an associate professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs and an energy economist.
Efficiency is the key, in technology and lifestyle.
As our nation’s modern way of life and level of prosperity are based on affordable and reliable sources of energy, policy changes that address concerns about sustainable societal behavior, energy security and degradation of the environment must take these facts into account. Quick fixes to these three areas of concern won’t work well.
Our primary policy tool to change the style and type of energy usage should be based on efficiency. Changes in efficiency ranging from individual lifestyle changes to highly engineered technical solutions need to be integrated into energy policies. These changes are necessary and achievable for our nation to meet the challenge of creating an accessible and sustainable supply of energy.
John Rupp is the associate director of SPEA’s Center for Research in Energy and the Environment (CREE), and assistant director for research and section head, Subsurface Geology at the Indiana Geological Survey.
Communicate the importance of the arts.
For my advice on the arts I have restricted myself to things that won’t cost the government a dime. The last thing you need these days is more voices asking for money. None of these items requires an “Arts Czar” or “Secretary of Culture.”
First, when the opportunity arises, let people know about how your outlook on life has been shaped by the world’s cultural heritage – literature, music, film, painting, or whatever things have moved
you, entertained you, that you would want to share with friends or your daughters. The arts can only flourish in an America where citizens seek it out, and you are the highest-profile role model we have.
Second, continue to articulate your understanding of America’s cultural diversity, that America’s artistic and intellectual vitality depends on its lively marketplace of ideas, including visions that on occasion will be disturbing to some. Be a champion of the First Amendment, and stand behind the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities when, as will almost certainly happen, one of their funded projects attracts protest.
Third, on the regulatory side, remember that citizens need to be able to have access to works, including those that come attached with intellectual property rights. Major producers of media will be sending plenty of lobbyists your way, asking for laws that often will make access more difficult or costly; keep in mind the arts consumer, or the young, struggling artist, whose ability to create is lessened the more that our cultural heritage is locked away behind ever-tightening copyright rules.
Michael Rushton is the director of IU’s Arts Administration Program at SPEA and an associate professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
(Excerpted from “Perpectives on Policy,” February 13, 2009; available online at http://newsinfo.iu.edu/issue/page/normal/139.html; by Stephen L. Hinnefield and Christopher J. Adamec, IU Office of University Communications).