chapter  1
The research question
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How can US government agencies more effectively implement legislative and executive policies? Clearly, the scope of this study is quite broad; accordingly, the hypothesis is general: Accountability for results can improve the effectiveness of federal programs only if accompanied by greater flexibility to allocate resources. Governments at all levels have made progress in utilizing technology to gather and disseminate information, including data on performance of their own programs. However, accountability is not reporting; it adds understanding and responsibility – for explaining what happened, how experience compares to expectations, and how the new knowledge can be used to inform future decisions. Planning, measuring and managing for results are distinct and critical components of effective organizations. I will argue that planning is incomplete if institutional effects are not explicitly addressed. I do not mean to suggest that the federal government will become effective if agencies are less constrained. That is a question with at least as many answers as there are citizens (effective at what, and for whom?). I am claiming that we cannot expect to learn whether policies actually work – nor can we expect to improve upon them – unless the agencies responsible for their administration have authority and incentives to implement them in the most efficient and effective manner. Structural reform is necessary but insufficient for effectiveness. In other words, we must attend to system capability before we can reasonably expect any sort of causal relation between inputs, policies, and outcomes. This follows from recognition of the federal government as a network. To be clear, the research question isn’t about ultimate effectiveness which, as explained in the next section, is subjective. Rather, it deals with effectiveness of the network of federal agencies and programs.1 According to Kickert et al. (1997: 1-9, 171-2) failures of government to “steer” society led to experiments in decentralization that represented a retreat of the public sector. The concept of policy networks has emerged as an approach that reconciles limitations of central planning with the loss of coordination associated with autonomous policy making. The existence of policy networks cannot be denied, so the challenge is to improve our understanding of how they operate and to use that knowledge to improve the quality of interactions.