Getting Big Things Done in Government


Getting Big Things Done in Government

Friday, May 25th, 2012 - 14:08
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Two professional associations, the American Society for Public Administration and the National Academy of Public Administration, have joined to sponsor a series of forums addressing the management challenges likely to face whomever is sworn in as president in January 2013. One of these forums examined the leadership challenges associated with getting big things done, and explored lessons from past experiences.

What Do We Mean by Big Things?

Over the course of U.S. history, the federal government has been involved in doing big things such as the Manhattan Project’s development of the atomic bomb in the 1940s, the interstate highway construction that began in the 1950s, and the race to the moon in the 1960s. However, the public has become concerned about the instances in which government has encountered difficulty in getting big things done, such as the Katrina recovery and the failure to deal with the fiscal crisis. Forum participant Tim Conlan observes that “all big things are not alike.”

The forum explored government performance in three categories of big things. The first is comprised of new policy implementation, including the $877 billion Recovery Act and provisions of the Affordable Care Act. These types of initiatives reach across sectors of the economy, levels of government, and different federal agencies.

The second category involves an emergency or a set of timedriven urgencies. Examples include the 1964 Alaska earthquake, the Y2k computer bug, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 2010 Gulf of Mexico BP Oil Spill.

The third category involves technical or scientific initiatives such as the Manhattan Project, the moon race, the International Space Station, and the decoding of the human genome.

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