The last day of #2020APPAM
did not disappoint. Congratulations to John Martinez of MDRC for being selected to be President-Elect of APPAM
! The election for Policy Council and Executive Committee kicks off in mid-December! We wrapped up today with the Closing Plenary: The President's Role in U.S. Domestic Policymaking.
As President-Elect Joe Biden prepares to take office in a little over two months – what is the President’s role in domestic policymaking? The plenary roundtable discussion, moderated by Timothy Naftali (New York University), focused on how the President advances a policy agenda through legislation, regulation, and administrative action, and the processes the President controls and the challenges of advancing an agenda through Congress and through the bureaucracy.
Panelists included Xavier Briggs (New York University), who served in the Office of Management & Budget during the Obama administration, Katherine Baicker (University of Chicago), who served on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) during the George W. Bush Administration, Katharine Abraham (University of Maryland) who served as a Bureau of Labor and Statistics commissioner under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, and Richard Burkhauser (Cornell University), who served on the CEA under President Trump.
Panelists agree that for a policy adviser, those first days on the job, either at the start of a term or as a midterm hire, are especially important. “Getting people rowing in the same direction is a real challenge,” Abraham said. “You come in and need to engage with political appointees and civil servants, and there can be a sense of mistrust between the two in the change of administrations. It takes a while.”
Even after getting acclimated, challenges remain in helping the President advance a policy agenda. In particular, analysts need to make the shift from academia to government service.
“One of the ways to be most helpful in implementing policy improvement is not be as 'tone deaf' as the average academic... you have to think more broadly,” Baicker said. “This concept of ‘being in the room’ is very different than in other settings. The average academic is trying to get out of every meeting possible, but [government] is the most process-heavy environment. Being useful to the process gets you invited to the meeting, which is vital.”
Burkhauser remembered getting in the room, but once there, he received some sage advice from a political appointee. “He asked me for the best advice I could give and told me that he reserved the right to completely ignore it. When you accept that, it takes some pressure off."
And, what helps a President implement policy is data. Both Democratic and Republican Administrations have been stymied by the lack of data to inform policies. “We don’t have adequate aggregation of local and state data. All of this requires cooperation and data and getting that really granulated data to roll up into federal action is a really troubling shortcoming of our system,” Baicker said.
Burkhauser added: “The idea of big data is certainly bi-partisan. It is very difficult with the data sets that we have now.”
However, some creativity on behalf of the analysts is vital in helping a President implement a domestic agenda. “Most White Houses can use a little curiosity about implementation,” Briggs said. “You want voices at the table that know how things live outside of a textbook. But you have to know that certain decisions are going to be the President’s call, with only a couple people in the room. You hope you’ve done your best, explained your position to the larger group, and help drive that change.”