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NYU Wagner Professor Paul Light’s New Book Reveals Government at the Breaking Point - and Shows How to Fix It

May 20, 2008
N-465, 2007-08

In recent decades, federal regulatory agencies have produced a cascade of failures involving tainted meat, toxic toys, aircraft groundings, passport bureau backlogs, contract fraud, EPA politicization, counterfeit Heparin, and formaldehyde soaked trailers. Now, a new book by Paul C. Light, a professor at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, examines the accelerating cycle of meltdowns and their implications. Out today (05/20/2008) from Harvard University Press, his book, A Government Ill-Executed: The Decline of the Federal Service and How to Reverse It (, reveals a broad pattern of a government in collapse, calling the broken condition of the Federal Service one of the most urgent problems of our day — and provides concrete recommendations to shore it up.

Light’s book title is inspired by Alexander Hamilton’s observation, “…and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be in practice a bad government.” According to Light, after suffering from three decades of benign and deliberate neglect, one of the next president’s most important jobs will be to rebuild the government.

Why? Light writes that the government’s ability to execute the laws has been eroded by politicization, incompetent leadership, needless layering, staffing cuts, dwindling interest in federal careers among the nation’s best and brightest, and constant attacks on government by presidents.

Among the comments on Light’s book: Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, provides the foreword; Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, says, “With the retirement of the baby boom bureaucrats there will be a greater opportunity to rethink and reshape the federal government … If it is done with the kind of thoughtfulness Light proposes, it could profoundly improve the delivery of government services and the quality of the federal work force.” Author E.J. Dionne, Jr remarks, “Ever since Hurricane Katrina, we have bemoaned the costs of incompetent government…Paul Light has …focused his enormous energies and brilliant mind on exactly how to create a government that works well.” Donna Shalala, President of Miami University, calls the book a “brilliant and insightful analysis and action plan to make our government work.”

Paul Light is the Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at NYU Wagner, Light and the founding principal investigator of the Organizational Performance Initiative, based at Wagner. He previously served as the Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution. Light is the author of 18 books, including the award-winning Thickening Government and The Tides of Reform. He is co-author of a best-selling American government textbook, Government by the People.

Established in 1938, the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service offers advanced programs leading to the professional degrees of Master of Public Administration, Master of Urban Planning, Master of Science in Management, and Doctor of Philosophy. Through these rigorous programs, NYU Wagner educates the future leaders of public, nonprofit, and health institutions as well as private organizations serving the public sector.

This Press Release is in the following Topics:
Research, Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

Type: Press Release

Press Contact: Robert Polner | (212) 998-2337


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