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A Cascade of Failures

A Cascade of Failures

NYU Wagner professor Paul C. Light will present his new Brookings Institution research paper on recent government failures such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 financial collapse,, and the Veterans Affairs wait list scandal. Titled “A Cascade of Failures: Why Government Fails, and How to Stop It,” the paper examines the contributors to 41 highly visible failures since 2001, and offers recommendations for increasing the odds of success. Professor Light will offer his predictions on the next crisis among the federal agencies.  

July 14, 2014

NYU Washington, DC
1307 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005


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Lunch Provided

According to Professor Light, the VA scandal is yet another sign that the recent cascade of federal government failures continues to accelerate. Just when one break-down recedes from the headlines, another pops up, often in a totally unexpected place. Federal failures have become so common that they are less of a shock to the public and more of an expectation. The question is no longer if government will fail every few months, but where. And the answer is “anywhere at all.”

Professor Light’s research answers four questions about federal government failures:

• Where did government fail?
• Why did government fail?
• Who caused the failure?
• What can be done to fix the underlying problems?

Professor Light will present the key findings of his research, recent patterns that suggest the cascade of government failures is accelerating at a record pace, and suggestions for immediate action. Professor Light will also discuss the role of Democrats, Republicans, and polarization in the rising number of what he calls “predictably unpredictable” failures.

Paul Light

Dr. Paul C. Light is NYU Wagner's Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service and founding principal investigator of the Global Center for Public Service, Before joining NYU, Dr. Light served as the Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, founding director of its Center for Public Service, and vice president and director of the Governmental Studies Program. He has served previously as director of the Public Policy Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts and associate dean and professor of public affairs at the University of Minnesota's Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Light is the author of 25 books, including works on social entrepreneurship, the nonprofit sector, federal government reform, public service, and the baby boom. His most recent book is Government by Investigation: Presidents, Congress, and the Search for Answers, 1945-2012 (2014). His award winning books include The President's Agenda: Domestic Policy Choice from Kennedy to Clinton (1982), Thickening Government: Federal Hierarchy and the Diffusion of Accountability (1995), The Tides of Reform: Making Government Work, 1945-1995 (1997), and A Government Ill Executed: The Decline of the Federal Service and How to Reverse It 2008). A Government Ill Executed received the American Political Science Association's Herbert Simon Award for the most important book on public administration in the preceding three-to-five years upon publication. Light is also a co-author of a best-selling American government textbook, Government by the People. His research interests include: bureaucracy, civil service, Congress, entitlement programs, executive branch, government reform, nonprofit effectiveness, organizational change, and the political appointment process.

NYU Wagner

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