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Monday, December 22, 2008

CPI Report Outlines Transportation’s Failures

Could it be somehow symbolic that the announcement for President-Elect Obama’s choice for secretary of transportation was dead last in filling out his cabinet? And, could the two-year failure of the reauthorization legislation be reflective of a lack of political will to address issues the industry considers critical not only to their costs and the environment but to its $1.2 trillion contribution to the economy? One certainly has to wonder just how important Washington thinks the industry is since this is a problem that has transcended party politics.
Even so, the chronicle of the Bush Administration’s failure has been published by the Center for Public Integrity in a landmark report entitled Broken Government: An assessment of 128 executive branch failures since 2000.

Its findings include seven transportation failures; six of which deal with aviation. Besides chronic highway funding woes, the failures include:
• modernizing the air traffic control system
• addressing human fatigue in transport accidents,
• runway safety,
• detecting maintenance issues at Southwest and American,
• record delays, and
FAA inspectors in tight relations with airlines.

A complete list by department is available here and chronicles shocking headlines and includes such major disasters as Iraq, the economy, the failure to address global warming, inability to guarantee food or product safety and Hurricane Katrina. This is the same organization that issued a list of well over 900 false statements issued by the Bush/Cheney team. It also confirms what the Pew Research Center found in a 2006/2007 poll which asked the public to find a word to describe the Bush administration and the word most often cited was “incompetent.”

The report said such findings was a “predictable result of the fact that Bush and Vice President Cheney intentionally put into key posts people who didn't support the traditional missions of the agencies they led. Competence or experience often weren't as important as loyalty to the White House, rigid ideological commitment to deregulation, aversion to oversight and allegiance to corporate and special interests over consumers and the general public.”
Written by CPI’s Josh Israel the indictment lists more than 100 failures. "In this, a comprehensive assessment of these failures, we found more than 125 examples of government breakdown in areas as diverse as education, energy, the environment, justice and security, the military and veterans affairs, health care, transportation, financial management, consumer and worker safety,” he wrote in the introduction. “[These are] failures which adversely affected ordinary people and made the nation a less open or less secure place to live. While some are, by now, depressingly familiar, many are less well-known but equally distressing. And though the list is diverse, it also reflects some recurring – and troubling – themes.”
“I think we’ll look back on this period as one of the most destructive periods in American public life . . . both in terms of policy and process,” Thomas E. Mann, senior fellow at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution, told the Center. “The broken government is not limited to one end of Pennsylvania Avenue; it involves the executive and legislative branches, which both contributed to embracing policies and actions that have come back to haunt us.”
To be fair, Israel noted that some problems were in place before Bush was inaugurated but were exacerbated by “by his administration’s actions (or inactions). Every administration has its share of political cronies, of course, but the examples of the past eight years seem especially stark.”
While it has long been a part of the Republican mantra that less is more when it comes to government, it is a striking reversal of what the public really wants from those who use their hard-earned tax dollars. As we’ve written before, the public, above all, wants to be protected from the excesses of business but that has not happened in the last eight years and the list amply illustrates that has not happened on Wall Street or on Main Street. Related Story Worse is the waste of those dollars.
“Much of the function of the federal government shifted from public employees to private contractors, as federal spending on contractors nearly doubled from FY 2001 to FY 2006, jumping from $234.8 billion to $415 billion,” said Israel. “These contracts often lacked competitive bidding processes and effective oversight and suffered from cost overruns and poor execution. The White House and its political appointees have frequently inserted themselves into matters of science, overruling experts and suppressing reports that did not coincide with the administration’s philosophy. The nonpartisan Union of Concerned Scientists warned that ‘political interference in federal government science is weakening our nation’s ability to respond to the complex challenges we face.’”
As to how this happened, Israel cited the two-decade-old Reagan philosophy which “believed that the federal government operates inefficiently, and is more often part of the problem than part of the solution. That philosophy has underscored a continuing quest to dismantle pieces of the federal government and to regulate as little as possible. Reagan famously joked that ‘the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” But again it transcended party lines when Bill Clinton and Al Gore promised to “reinvent and cut the size of government and eliminate excessive regulation." We have since learned this bold experiment can be taken to extremes as it was by the Bush administration which failed in most of its regulatory responsibilities.
Israel also cited Cheney’s drive to increase presidential power. “In my judgment, there’s a clear connection between the Bush administration’s governing philosophy and the abuse of power we have seen in the last eight years,” presidential historian Robert Dallek told the Center. “The Bush-Cheney assumption has been that the post-Watergate reforms weakened the presidency and a president’s ability to deal with foreign dangers. Much of what they have done has been an attempt to right this so-called imbalance. The result has been a resurgence of the imperial presidency.”
“We saw genuine distortion in the constitutional system, an exaggerated sense of presidential power and prerogative and acquiescence by a Republican Congress in the face of the first unified Republican government since Dwight Eisenhower,” Mann added in the CPI report. “That led to abuses. Certainly, it led to bad policies, because Congress wasn’t challenging the executive along the way and overseeing it. And I think it encouraged a diminution in the capacity of government to deal with important problems.”
"But a series of cataclysmic events has started to change the nation’s view of what the government’s role should be,” said CPI. “First came the tragedies of September 11, 2001. The Bush administration determined that in order to keep the nation safe from further acts of terrorism, a major expansion of law enforcement, intelligence, and military operations was required. While no major terrorist acts have occurred on American soil since, the dramatic growth of the nation’s security apparatus has been a messy, expensive process involving missteps, bureaucratic turf battles, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security — the largest government reorganization since 1947. Then came Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which killed a reported 1,698 people — and in the process laid bare a response that was chaotic at best, dysfunctional at worst. The breakdown in emergency response at all levels of government also demonstrated that some catastrophes and crises are so large that they truly require federal government organization and management.
“Most recently, the financial meltdown and the administration’s attempts to bail out the financial services sector have caused many to conclude that deference to the ‘trust us’ mantra of Wall Street and unquestioned faith in the free market’s ability to self-regulate required re-thinking,” the report continued. “All the while, globalization’s myriad impacts continue to be felt at home. Increased trade with other countries has resulted in a flood of new imports that must be monitored for both safety and homeland security. A host of scares involving dangerous food, drug, and toy imports have made clear the need for more oversight of products manufactured overseas. Meanwhile, cargo holds carrying potentially dangerous weapons require port security officials to screen more freight than ever before.
Israel called the catalogue of failures should be seen as a blueprint for what needs fixing as the government changes. One can only hope that the lust for re-regulation will be tempered when it comes to the airline industry to the point that is does not pile on more costs or that it relieves the industry of costs that should certainly be borne by the government. Now all we have to do is convince the power brokers that the industry is worthy of the political will necessary to make the industry healthy.

Sidebar: The CPI report was followed by similar findings from the Drum Major Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank, cataloging the best and worst policies of the past year.
“From inside Capitol Hill to City Halls and Statehouses around the country, elected officials this year missed opportunities to save homeowners, invest in infrastructure, prevent global warming, and give workers paid leave, but they did try to go after predatory lenders, incentivize development near mass transit, help prisoners re-enter society, clean up dirty ports, and propose other legislation that would benefit Americans during a time of increasing economic crisis, according to the 2008 Year in Review released today by the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy (DMI).
The report looks behind the biggest headlines to offer a fresh examination of urban, state, and federal policy ideas affecting how many current and aspiring middle-class Americans live. It dissects 10 progressive and 10 regressive proposals, offering President-elect Obama, Congress, and other elected officials examples of model policies that can inform future legislation, along with examples of what to rethink or abandon.
"There have been images lately of governors and mayors going to Washington, but our Year in Review highlights instances where the pilgrimage should be reversed and federal leaders can learn more from state and local policy innovations," said Andrea Batista Schlesinger, executive director of The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy. "We fill a void by highlighting key economic, environmental, and labor policy ideas that have been either proposed or enacted despite the constraints of ideology and demands of politics."
The best public policy ideas include:
- Clean Air Action Plan (City of Los Angeles)
- Helping Families Save Their Homes in Bankruptcy Act (U.S. Senator Dick Durbin)
- Preventing businesses from cheating employees (New York State executive order)
- The Second Chance Act (U.S. Senator Joe Biden and U.S. Representative Danny Davis)
- Healthy San Francisco (City of San Francisco)
- The Family Leave Insurance Act (U.S. Representative Pete Stark)
- The National Infrastructure Bank Act (U.S. Senators Chris Dodd and Chuck Hagel)
- The Children's Safe Products Act (State of Washington)
- The New GI Bill (U.S. Senator Jim Webb)
- The SB 375 green growth bill (State of California)
The worst public policy ideas include:
- Immigration enforcement as labor suppression (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
- Not regulating harmful chemicals in drinking water (Environmental Protection Agency)
- The original Paulson Bailout plan (U.S. Treasury Department)
- Disenfranchising voters through restrictive voter identification (State of Indiana)
- Colombia Free Trade Agreement (Bush Administration)
- The gas tax holiday (Senator John McCain)
- Budget cuts that harm the poor, the sick, the elderly and children (State of Rhode Island)
- Discriminatory policing of Latino residents (Maricopa County, Arizona)
- Using public subsidies to increase healthcare costs for residents (State of Georgia)
- The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Bush Administration and Congress)

Also included is the DMI Injustice Index, a by-the-numbers appraisal of the Bush legacy. Based in New York City, the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy (DMI) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank founded during the civil-rights movement that puts the sharpest ideas and most effective tools into the hands of those advocating on the frontlines for progressive economic and political change. Its work is defined not by geography or issue niche but by approach. DMI conducts research to hold policymakers accountable for their support of policies that strengthen and expand the middle class; highlights models of progressive policymaking that should be replicated; and advances the arguments that help progressive leaders and advocates govern effectively. DMI is known for starting one of the first public policy blogs and pioneering the use of Google Adwords to raise awareness of how elected officials vote on issues of importance to their constituents and the public.

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