New York University Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Navigation Skip to Sub Navigation

In Letter, NYU Wagner Professor Paul Light Urges Presidential Candidates to Support “McCain-Obama Government for the 21st Century Act”

June 24, 2008
n-497, 2007-08

In a letter released today, Professor Paul Light of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University is urging John McCain and Barack Obama to use their influence and unique position as sitting senators running for president to pass bi-partisan legislation that would reform the appointment process and improve government performance.

The “McCain-Obama Government for the 21st Century Act” recommended by Professor Light would cut the number of presidential appointees next year, accelerate the nomination and confirmation process, and help fix a broken federal government. A strong focus on governance during the campaign, Dr. Light contends in the letter sent to the two senators, will ensure that the next president is truly “Ready on Day One.”

The following is the text of the June 23, 2008, letter to the two candidates:

Dear Senators McCain and Obama:

I am writing to seek your support for a bipartisan effort to restore the federal government’s ability to faithfully execute the laws. As sitting senators, you have the power to co-sponsor legislation today that would greatly increase government performance. And as your party’s presidential nominees, Congress would have ample reason to enact long overdue reforms before election day.

Creating a government well executed is not as difficult as it might sound. Much of the legislation is easy to draft and at least some has already been introduced. You also know what to say in persuading your colleagues to act, in part because you have called for needed reforms in the past and promised action in the future. You now have a once-in-a-generation chance to take action in the present.

Your legislation would need only five simple sections. Taken separately, each one could make an important impact on government performance. But passed as a package of simultaneous reform, the McCain-Obama Government in the 21st Century Act would produce enormous gains in government performance.

Reverse the layering of government. Congress and the president have added dozens of needless layers to the federal organization chart over the past thirty years. It is no wonder that no one can be held accountable for what goes right or wrong in government—not the aircraft groundings, counterfeit Heparin, leaded toys, toxic trailers, or even bad tomatoes. Title I of the McCain-Obama Act would restore this lost accountability by cutting the number of management layers in half.

Reduce the number of political appointees. The next president will make 3,000 political appointments, an increase from just 400 in 1961. Three thousand may be a tiny number when compared against a federal workforce of nearly 2 million, but it is a very large number in terms of lost transparency. Not only do these political appointees occupy more than a quarter of the management layers between the top and bottom of most departments and agencies, the appointments process itself has become a dangerous source of delay. Title II of the McCain-Obama Act would reduce the delays and the vacancies that come with them by cutting the number of political appointees in half, while streamlining the appointments process.

Increase the capacity to faithfully execute all the laws. Federal employees complain of shortages in every resource they need to do their jobs well. These shortages are particularly severe at the bottom of the government where services are delivered. There are simply not enough border patrol officers, food and drug inspectors, revenue agents, immigration officers, veterans nurses, and contract specialists. Title III of the McCain-Obama Act would stem the erosion of excellence by giving the next president the funding to hire at least 100,000 new front-line employees in 2009.

Restore interest in federal careers. The federal government’s sluggish bureaucracy is perfectly designed to drive talented young Americans to the private or charitable sectors. Young Americans want to be rewarded for results, not time on the job; they want to be promoted on the merits, not favoritism; and they want to make a difference now, not in thirty years. Title IV of the McCain-Obama Act would make the federal government a destination of choice again by creating a highly-competitive Spirit of Service corps that would give 5,000 of the nation’s best and brightest four years of tuition in return for eight years of service.

Improve oversight of the huge workforce of contractors that now delivers goods and services on behalf of the federal bureaucracy. Presidents and Congress have moved millions of jobs to an estimated contract workforce of more than 7.6 million employees, or three contractors for every federal employee. The number of contractors has grown by 70 percent since 2002, mostly through contracts that have been awarded without competition. Title V of the McCain-Obama Act would strengthen government’s bargaining position by requiring competitive bidding on at least 80 percent of all federal contracts. It would also stop the revolving door between government and contract firms by imposing a five-year ban on lobbying by former presidential appointees and senior civil servants.

Government reform has rarely been the stuff of which presidential dreams are made. But it essential if you are to honor the promises you make. You could do nothing more important in the coming months than to work together on a strategy for reforming the federal bureaucracy. Like tremors before an earthquake, the signs of another breakdown are already clear. The McCain-Obama Act could prevent it.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Paul Light, Ph.D.

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

Type: Press Release

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


Search News



NYU In the News

CUSP Unveils its “Urban Observatory”

Crain’s New York Business profiled CUSP’s “Urban Observatory” that is continuously photographing lower Manhattan to gather scientific data.

Post-Sandy Upgrades at the Langone Medical Center

NY1 reported on the major post-Sandy upgrades and renovations made at the Medical Center to protect the hospital from future catastrophic storms.

Steinhardt Research Helps Solve Tough Speech Problems.

The Wall Street Journal reported on research at Steinhardt’s Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, including an interview with Assistant Professor Tara McAllister Byun, that uses ultrasound to help solve tough speech problems.

Times Column Lauds Professor Stevenson’s New Memoir

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a column about “Just Mercy,” a new memoir by Law Professor Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, whom he noted has been called America’s Nelson Mandela.

Entrepreneurship Lab Opens at NYU

Crain’s New York Business covered the opening of the Mark and Debra Leslie Entrepreneurial eLab, which will be the headquarters for NYU’s Entrepreneurial Institute and all of the University’s programs aimed at promoting innovation and startups.

NYU Footer