You’re the President! Congratulations?

presidentLet’s say you won the next presidential election by promising to make government efficient, effective and accountable. How would you go about fulfilling this pledge? Perhaps your biggest challenge would be convincing Americans of the unrecognized truth that public systems are, for the most part, well-run and competent.

Don Kettl tears apart the myths of government incompetence in his piece for the Volcker Alliance, which begins with the day after your presidential inauguration. Kettl points out that most people don’t recognize the many things government does right. The public and the media focus on the mistakes but completely ignore the day-to-day efforts that make our nation run:

For all the (often overblown) concerns about the long-term fiscal strength of Social Security, the bureaucracy that actually administers the program, the Social Security Administration, makes monthly payments to 64 million Americans with an accuracy rate of more than 99 percent and administrative costs that are (at 0.7 percent) but a fraction of those of private pension plans. Harvard University researchers found that stronger government regulations for air quality have led to longer lives. Even at the troubled Veterans Health Administration, a new technology system shrank the claims backlog by 60 percent….

A huge part of government works pretty well most of the time, as we take for granted every time safe drinking water comes out of the tap. You start your administration with a lot of points on the board, even if not many citizens notice the score.

Kettl reveals ten “secret truths” about government that you’ll need to understand as president. Perhaps our favorite is this: “We say we want to run government more like the private sector—but we expect government to meet standards that the private sector could never manage.” The American public isn’t concerned by massive failures of private companies, but they are outraged by any and every misstep government makes.

Check out Kettl’s list. And don’t worry—when you’re ready to explain to the public that their government was actually working pretty well even before you got into office, Public Works will be here to help you with messaging.

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