Foster's Reviews > The Next Government of the United States: Why Our Institutions Fail Us and How to Fix Them

The Next Government of the United States by Donald F. Kettl
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Jan 15, 09

bookshelves: policy
Read in January, 2009

Notwithstanding the many references to my employer in this book, it wasn't worth the read. Listing a litany of recent failures of government is not a difficult task, and if this is all it takes to become a tenured professor at an Ivy League school then I missed a great career opportunity.

I kept on going, through all the rehashings of Katrina and 9/11, until finally at page 177 of 240 Kettl began to write of possible solutions. Even then he continued to tell anecdotal stories with no replicable model, until the final chapter when he began to write down specific strategies. If you are interested at all in what he has to say in this book, skip to page 215.

What Kettl ends up saying, in a nutshell, is that today's Federal government is too outsourced and interconnected to effectively manage or react to today's problems. Further, nobody is held accountable because everyone is accountable. As a solution, he proposes enabling "rocket scientists" - driven, critical-thinking, self-motivated problem solvers who often risk their careers to abandon protocol and find solutions to problems.

My response to Kettl: when such people turn out to be Thad Allen, I agree that the outcome (rescue of Katrina survivors) is great. However, when such people turn out to be more like the reservists at Abu Ghraib, the results are not so good. The fact is, smart people are smart people, and you can't write an organizational strategy to make more of them suddenly appear.
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