Thursday
Oct302014

Former DLC Founder and President Clinton Advisor Al From Addresses Symposia 

Al From, the Founder of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and a close advisor to President Bill Clinton shared his experience helping to reinvent the Democratic Party after suffering huge losses in three consecutive presidential elections in the 1980s.  The Democratic Party (and progressive government) had grown out of touch and lacked a successful governing philosophy.  The DLC, under From's leadership, became an idea movement -- not simply a strategy -- to find an agenda that would resonate with voters.  Mr. From recounted how the DLC in its early years met opposition from Democratic Party leadership, but forged ahead, challenging party orthodoxy and using the conflict it created within the party to actually expand it.  He shared interesting and funny anecdotes about traveling around the country in the early 1990s with a then little known governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, who Mr. From told early on that he could help make president.  Working together, Mr. From and President Clinton engaged in a four-prong strategy of what he called first, reality therapy -- facing the truth of the problem with the Party.  Second, they issued a declaration of ideas -- opportunity, responsibility, community, private sector growth, and a robust foreign policy -- that resonated with the American people and redressed areas where the party had failed.  Third, they found policy initiatives to go with the ideas, such as Americorps, welfare reform, workfare, community policing, charter schools, and reinventing government initiatives.  Finally, Clinton took these ideas and traveled the country testing them out.  

Mr. From applied some of these same strategies and insights to the modern day Democratic and Republican Parties, and what principally ails our politics today, which is so much partisanship.  Mr. From stressed how the health of our democracy depends on having two competitive parties, and even conflicts within the two parties.  For example, he noted that not one Republican voted for Obamacare, leaving the healthcare reform without buy-in from Republicans, who thus will have no interest in making it workable long after Obama is out of office.  In addition, both parties, he observed, have become highly ideological parties, which does not work well in the American system of democracy.  It would be better to have a place for conservative and liberals in both parties, to create balance and compromise and greater openness to workable solutions.  (He used the example of Republican Jack Kemp, whose ideas on empowerment zones had resonance with both parties). His fascinating talk was followed up by some great questions and further discussion.   For those interested in learning more about Mr. From's work, his book, The New Democrats and the Return to Power, is available here on amazon.com.  

Thursday
Oct232014

Career Networking with Alumni Advisory Board

Last night, the JHU Alumni Advisory Board met and mingled with current students and other alums in a career networking event at the JHU Center for Advanced Governmental Studies.  Alumni Board Member David Black (r) chats with current student, Doug Andres. The JHU Alumni Advisory Board was launched this year to help students and alumni advance their careers and professional aspirations.  The Center degree programs have graduated an impressive number of alumni who are leaders in a variety of fields in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Students and alumni may reach out to the alumni board by emailing govstudadvisory@jhu.edu .  To learn more about the Board members please go to our website.

Earlier in the evening, Board Members met with JHU faculty.  Alumni Board Members were very enthusiastic and eager to help students and alum at the Center.  We look forward to more networking events in the future.  Here, Alumni Board Members are pictured in JHU spirit scarves, designed by James Miervaldis, MA in Government 2010.  Front: Ivette Rivera, Sarah Lovenheim Goldfarb,Paul Burden, Jonathan Powers, Tom Manatos. Back row: Marc Korman, Rachel Mack, Scott Fisher, Eric Christopher, David Black, and Matt LasloBoard Member Jonathan Powers



Thursday
Oct092014

Beatrice Edwards, Executive Director of Government Accountability Project, talks on Whistleblowers: Regulators of Last Resort.

Beatrice Edwards, Executive Director of Government Accountability Project, provided us with a compelling symposium presentation last night as she spoke on the role of whistleblowers in protecting citizens’ basic rights.   Dr. Edwards discussed the arguments presented in her recent book, The Rise of the American Corporate Security State: Six Reasons to be Afraid.  She highlighted two major events from the twenty first century that have transformed the relationship between government surveillance and citizens’ rights: the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the financial crisis beginning in 2008.  She gave us fascinating insight into the stories of whistleblowers who tried to draw attention to fraud and other concerns, and who were severely thwarted in their efforts or ignored e.g. Thomas Drake and Eileen Foster.   She raised concerns about the gathering of information and also about the interchange of information between private corporations and the intelligence community and argued for more protections for whistleblowers, in an environment that is currently only covered by a patchwork of (often weak/ineffective) laws.  A lively question and answer session followed with a number of questions centering on the role of Edward Snowden and the balance to be found between classification for security concerns and constitutional protections.

Wednesday
Oct082014

Government Analytics Breakfast Forum

On October 9, 2014, the Johns Hopkins University Government Analytics Program and REI Systems hosted the inaugural meeting of the Government Analytics Breakfast (GAB) Forum.  The GAB Forum brings together professionals from academia, government and industry to discuss advances in data-driven decision making in the public sector. The Forum meets every other month on Wednesday mornings from 8:30-10am.

This first meeting featured Kathy Stack, Advisor for Evidence-Based Innovation at the Office of Management and Budget.  Kathy’s presentation addressed the question, do data analytics actually influence government funding and administration policy?  She explained that, in recent years, OMB has tried to "create an ecosystem for using data and evidence for decision making."  In particular, federal agencies are encouraged to build bridges between their research arms and program arms.  The effectiveness of government programs is much improved if their evaluation is informed by the practices and expertise of researchers.  Further, there is a substantial amount of data that goes unutilized because of tenuous connections between the policy/program and research wings.

Beyond creating tighter linkages within agencies, there is a need for more inter-agency cooperation.  Agencies often collect data that, when combined, can be used to answer important questions.  For example, the Department of Education and Social Security Administration worked together to identify whether students in new trade-school programs were obtaining jobs with sustainable incomes upon graduating.

Kathy also emphasized the need for more inexpensive, randomized controlled experiments to identify the causal effects of programs on stated objectives.  She provided several examples of the ways in which the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services are using low-cost experiments to improve programs related to student financial aid and the mentorship of children of prisoners.

The key takeaway from the talk was that many agencies would do well to move from a compliance-based to an evidence-based approach when evaluating government programs.  In other words, agencies should focus more on continuosly evaluating whether programs are achieving desired outcomes (and how to fix them if they are not) rather than on determining whether programs are being implemented exactly as they were designed.

GAB Forum participants represented a number of different agencies and private sector organizations.  A full recording of the presentation can be found here.

We look forward to our next meeting, which will be held on December 10.  More details to come.

Thursday
Oct022014

Robert Bauer, former White House Counsel to President Obama, addresses students on campaign finance reform

Robert Bauer, former White Counsel to President Obama, partner at Perkins and Coie and Co-Chair of the Presidential Commission on Election Reform, delivered a most compelling symposia talk last night about campaign finance reform and the impact such laws have on democratic politics.  Mr. Bauer, one of the nation's leading authorities on campaign finance laws and regulations on political activity, shared his insights on one of the most fundamental questions to a democratic order:  How far can government go to expunge corruption and safeguard the processes of government from political money, in fact, and in appearance? How these laws are fashioned has enormous political implications, as Mr. Bauer noted, regarding who wins, who loses, and more broadly, how politics is conducted (e.g., do some laws like the "stand by your ad" one help to produce less negative campaigns? Are political parties important intermediaries that shield candidates from corruption or are parties simply vehicles for corruption?) .  Mr. Bauer provided a concise history of campaign finance reforms dating back to the post Watergate era to McCain-Feingold before exploring the implications of the two most recent Supreme Court cases, Citizens United and McCutcheon.   Mr. Bauer concluded his talk suggesting that we need to tease out better the political implications  and assumptions of these regulations and how they change and impact the political process.