This week Brookings held a panel on Don Kettl’s new book The Next Government of the United States. Moderated by Bill Galston, the panel included comments from two long-time management reform heavies former Clinton NPR director Elaine Karmack, who has written a review of Kettl’s book for the American Prospect, and Jonathan Breul, longtime OMB SES’er now with the IBM Center. I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s a set of ideas Kettl has been thinking about for several years – as he says the government we have is not a good fit for many of the problems we want to address. It was also, in part, the focus of his 2008 Gaus Lecture at the American Political Science Association meeting in Boston. Big ideas, but I was  struck by one detail in particular. Given all the talk about change in the American political system, the emphasis on measuring the performance of public policies and organizations is essentially unchanged. All four of panel members and a handful of audience questions returned to familiar themes: the measurement imperative, promise of public sector performance, and dissatisfaction with the quality of public sector performance measures. This is a pattern reflected in the language of the Obama transition as well. You’d be hard-pressed to find an issue on which Barack Obama sounds more like George W. Bush (or, indeed, just about any late 20th Century American president) than when he talks about going “line-by-line” through the budget and eliminating programs that don’t work. The Obama administration will enjoy some distinct advantages, but the track record is not promising.

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