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This is the question that The Brookings Institution's R. Kent Weaver raises in a new Issue Brief: "But Will It Work?: Implementation Analysis to Improve Government Performance." According to Weaver, even though many implementation problems occur repeatedly across programs and can be predicted in advance, legislators often pay little attention to them when programs are being enacted or overhauled. Weaver's solution is to have the Government Accountability Office (GAO) perform implementation analysis for major legislative proposals in Congress, much like the Congressional Budget Office does with budget scoring.
Weaver's Issues in Governance Studies Issue Brief outlines major elements of Implementation Analysis and argues that it could lead to major improvements in policy performance. He identifies a number of problems that are likely to be highlighted by Implementation Analysis:
- Interpretation (i.e., leaving legislation open to later interpretation)
- Organizational mission issues (potential conflicts between established organizational missions and new tasks)
- Organizational and coordination issues (where cooperation of several organizations will be needed)
- Resource and organizational capacity constraints (a realistic assessment of financial, workforce and technology resources)
- Time lines (underestimating organizational and resource challenges involved in policy change)
- Political interference (mechanisms to insulate decisions from inappropriate interference)
- Program operator issues (problematic behavior of front-line workers)
- Target compliance issues (the "targets" of government policies may fail to behave in ways that were anticipated)
Kent Weaver concludes his very thoughtful set of recommendations with sensible modesty, acknowledging that "Implementation Analysis is certainly no panacea to avoid government problems." He concludes, however, that "Implementation Analysis offers a potentially powerful new tool to ensure that governments make informed decisions and that government policies live up to their promise."