If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government Hardcover – 1 Nov 2009
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"Eggers and O'Leary may have created a new genre--the Government Policy Thriller. We couldn't get enough of the stories--good policies gone bad, great ideas that flew off the rails, and, occasionally, the stunning triumph that gives us hope that we can get to the moon again." - Chip and Dan Heath, coauthors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die "A clear-eyed look at how to get the best out of our public institutions. Instead of easy answers, the authors offer practical suggestions for successful execution in a very challenging and complex environment. A must-read for political leaders." --Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson "As we sort out the cross-pressures in twenty-first-century government, this book is a useful and lively guide to how to make things work. Driven by practical cases and pragmatic lessons, it's an invaluable road map to the government of the future." - Donald F. Kettl, Dean, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland "If We Can Send a Man to the Moon is the rare book that made me both shake my head in disbelief and nod my head with possibility. Eggers and O'Leary offer a trenchant analysis of how good government intentions can go awry. But they also show how sharper thinking and keener attention to design can help governments at all levels serve citizens better. Pick up two copies--one to read yourself, the other to send to your favorite elected official." - Daniel H. Pink, author of A Whole New Mind "After serving as a mayor, a congressman for twenty years, and as a secretary of two cabinet-level departments in two administrations from different political parties, I can attest that the challenges of executing successful government programs exist at all levels of government, in all parties, and in all locations. Eggers and O'Leary present exactly the most common traps that lead to a failure of execution, but more importantly they present ways to help avoid those traps. Their ideas should be presented to all government employees." - Former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta
About the Author
William D. Eggers is one of the country's best known authorities on government reform. An author, a columnist, and popular speaker, for two decades Eggers has built a significant following among public sector thought leaders in America and overseas. His columns in Governing and Public CIO and feature articles in Government Executive regularly reach more than 100,000 readers. He is a sought after speaker, giving close to 100 speeches a year. Currently Mr. Eggers is the Global Research Director for Deloitte's public sector practice and Executive Director of its Public Leadership Institute. He is the author of several books on government reform.
John O'Leary has both government and private sector experience. An expert in business process engineering, Mr. O'Leary has been a Vice President of Operations at Scudder Kemper Investments, the Director of Business Process Reengineering at Lycos, and a consulting manager with KPMG Peat Marwick. He is a 1984 graduate of MIT and holds a Master of Science degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Regardless of one's partisan leanings, most of us are tired of the competing spin that now passes for political discourse. This book gets past all that by using real-life examples to demonstrate how government succeeded in large undertakings at which it succeeded and where it went wrong when it failed. Sadly, there are far more recent examples of the latter.
Two things make the book stand out. The first is the authors' ability to focus on results by ignoring which side proposed an idea and who would get credit or blame for it. Instead, they focus on what a program's goal was, whether it got to the finish line and why (or why not).
The second attribute is how the book is written. You will not for one minute think you're reading a text book. Instead, you will find yourself engrossed in the case studies. You won't even realize that you're (gasp) learning something! I hope this book is read by all the federal and state elected officials with whom I find myself becoming increasingly disillusioned. It's a road map for how government can make the really important things work.
The only point that doesn't quite ring true is the authors' contention that program design should (and could) be addressed in more detail in the legislative drafting phase. The Congress doesn't have the time or expertise to do this in most cases. Aside from the highly visible issues that prompt 1200-page bills, the Congress often purposely leaves the details to the implementing agencies, for better or worse. The authors' suggestion that an independent "policy design review" by subject-matter experts be conducted in the legislative phase seems sensible at first, but raises many questions: Will there be time to fit this into the 2-year legislative cycle? How will the review be funded? Will partisans and interest groups be able to put undue influence on the selection of the study panel or the direction of its results?
Despite this one criticism, this is an important book that provides an informative and thought-provoking read for students and professionals alike. Each of the chapters ends with a summary reminiscent of a textbook, but the book's style is far more compelling than any textbook I remember from my school days. The final chapter is especially noteworthy, powerfully ending the book with profiles of two individuals, one a political appointee and politician, and the other a career bureaucrat. The reader comes away with a heightened appreciation for the government's potential to accomplish great things. I hope this does get used as a textbook so more students will see the possibilities and be drawn to public service.
Thinking back on the book I read just a few days ago, I remember some useful trivia more than I remember the specific bullet points. For example, JFK would leave the room during the ExComm meetings of the Cuban Missile Crisis so his advisors would feel more free to speak or London's Mayor put a publicly visible single person in charge of the traffic congestion project to make it transparent who was in charge and responsible. The book is full of interesting stories like those or how cap and trade for acid rain came about (difficult to imagine given modern politics) as well as a useful explanation of California energy deregulation.
One shortcoming I noticed with the book was its emphasis on the design phase and what could be done legislatively there. In modern government, much of the design actually occurs after passage through the administrative process. There are benefits and detriments to that approach, but it is pretty common now and allows more detailed and better design, as well as easier tweaking since it can be done administratively and does not need to be passed through a legislative body again.
Some of the discussions are also a bit inconsistent. Generally, government designed programs work well enough that they are useful even if they have some kinks. I am thinking here of social programs specifically. Where government usually runs into trouble is with the unexpected (Katrina or the oil well spill) and these events are much more difficult to prepare for. Preparation is still possible, but not in the same way a program passed by a legislature is designed. Of course the Iraq war is an example of the government having adequate time to prepare and "design," but choosing not to which is obviously something to avoid.
But the book is worth reading overall and will not take you too long to get through. If you are in government, you may benefit from copying the bullet points in the back of each chapter.