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If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government [Hardcover]

William D. Eggers , John O'Leary
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 16, 2009 1422166368 978-1422166369 1
The American people are frustrated with their government-dismayed by a series of high-profile failures (Iraq, Katrina, the financial meltdown) that seems to just keep getting longer. Yet our nation has a proud history of great achievements: victory in World War II, our national highway system, welfare reform, the moon landing.

We need more successes like these to reclaim government's legacy of competence. In If We Can Put a Man on the Moon, William Eggers and John O'Leary explain how to do it. The key? Understand-and avoid-the common pitfalls that trip up public-sector leaders during the journey from idea to results.

The authors identify pitfalls including:

-The Partial Map Trap: Fumbling handoffs throughout project execution

-The Tolstoy Syndrome: Seeing only the possibilities you want to see

-Design-Free Design: Designing policies for passage through the legislature, not for implementation

-The Overconfidence Trap: Creating unrealistic budgets and timelines

-The Complacency Trap: Failing to recognize that a program needs change

At a time of unprecedented challenges, this book, with its abundant examples and hands-on advice, is the essential guide to making our government work better. A must-read for every public official, this book will be of interest to anyone who cares about the future of democracy.

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If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government + A Practical Guide for Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving, 4th Edition
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In 1969 the Apollo launch gave the U.S. confidence that, if we could beat the Russians to the moon, surely we could solve more prosaic problems. But succeeding years have shown that not to be the case. Recent examples of governmental bungles include the response to Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and the economic meltdown. Business consultants Eggers and O’Leary analyzed 75 case studies of major public initiatives, domestic and international, failures and successes, and looked for patterns and lessons. They identify “seven deadly traps” that can undermine the best-intended projects: the Tolstoy syndrome of seeing only what you want to see in a problem; policy designed to pass through legislatures but not for implementation; overconfidence that results in unrealistic budgets and time lines; complacency that fails to recognize the need for change; and fumbling throughout the execution stage of the process. The authors detail each trap along with providing examples of where management concepts from the business world could have produced better results in the government sector. Public officials and ordinary citizens will appreciate this fresh look at government programs and policies. --Vanessa Bush

Review

“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

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (November 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1422166368
  • ISBN-13: 978-1422166369
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William (Bill) Eggers is one of the country's best known authorities on government reform. An author, columnist, and popular speaker for two decades, he has built a significant following among public sector thought leaders in the U.S., Canada and overseas. Eggers has advised dozens of cities, states and foreign countries and trained hundreds of public officials on government restructuring. He is a sought after speaker, giving close to 100 speeches each year. His upcoming book will be published by Harvard Business Press in the fall of 2009.
Currently as the global director for Deloitte Research and executive director of Deloitte's Public Leadership Institute, he is responsible for research and thought leadership for Deloitte's Public Sector practice.
Eggers is a former appointee to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget's Performance Measurement Advisory Commission and the former Project Director for the Texas Performance Review/e-Texas initiative. He was involved in two performance reviews, in which he identified over $2.5 billion worth of savings and non-tax revenues for the state. More than 60 percent of the recommendations in the reviews were enacted into law. Eggers also served as a Commissioner for the Texas Incentive and Productivity Commission and a designee on the Texas Council on Competitive Government.
Eggers is a former senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and the former director of Government Reform at the Reason Public Policy Institute. Prior to joining the Reason Foundation, Eggers assisted reformers in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union with the transition to market economies. Eggers graduated magna cum laude from the University of California at San Diego.
HONORS
Eggers is the 1996 winner of the prestigious Roe Award for leadership and innovation in public policy research. He also received the 2002 APEX award for excellence in business journalism.
Eggers' book "Governing by Network" was the winner of the National Academy of Public Administration's 2005 Louis Brownlow Award for best book on public management. In addition, his book "Revolution at the Roots" won the 1996 Sir Anthony Fisher Award for the book "making the greatest contribution to the understanding of the free economy during the past two years."
He coined the terms "Government 2.0" and (with co-author Stephen Goldsmith) "Governing by Network" in his 2005 and 2006 books of the same names.
PUBLICATIONS
Eggers is the author of numerous books on government reform including:
* The Public Innovator's Playbook: Nurturing Bold Ideas in Government (Deloitte Research 2009)
* States of Transition: Tackling Government's Toughest Policy and Management Challenges (Deloitte Research, 2006)
* Government 2.0: Using Technology to Improve Education, Cut Red Tape, Reduce Gridlock and Enhance Democracy (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005)
* Governing by Network: The New Shape of the Public Sector (Brookings, 2004 with Stephen Goldsmith)
* Revolution at the Roots: Making our Government Smaller, Better and Closer to Home (The Free Press, 1995 with John O'Leary)
Eggers' commentary has also appeared in dozens of major media outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, San Francisco Chronicle and Orange County Register. His upcoming book on how governments can improve their ability to do get big things done will be published in 2009.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Roadmap towards America's Future February 7, 2010
Format:Hardcover
In Man on the Moon, Eggers and O'Leary have written a book that is engaging, convincing, and very important. The insights and the examples, aided by the tone and language, make the book very hard to put down. After thirty years in government, ranging from crafting the response to the first oil embargo in 1973 to a leadership role in Vice President Gore's National Performance Review, I can truly say that the authors understand both the problems and the opportunities presented by our Federal system. Today's global, national, and societal problems are complex, critical, and urgent. The way forward must include a roadmap such as this book: detailed, thorough, documented, and presented in almost handbook form. Eggers and O'Leary offer excellent suggestions for everything but the filibuster rule in the Senate!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Putting Aside the Rhetoric to get to What Matters November 1, 2009
Format:Hardcover
If We Can Put a Man on the Moon is must reading for everyone who cares about government. And that should be everybody because, whether we like it or not, government makes the decisions that will affect not only our lives, but our children's.

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.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This renewed my faith in government October 29, 2009
Format:Hardcover
Eggers and O'Leary have really nailed it in this wonderfully crafted work. Any person with a remote interest in government and how to make it better, be it voters who have lost faith in our representatives' ability to deliver on big promises, to government officials looking for a roadmap to actually deliver on campaign promises and getting the most of his or her time in office, this is a must read. And I don't mean a cursory pass or having an intern provide coverage. This is a powerful book worthy of an active read with a highlighter and a handful of post-it notes. Every government official, from the local dog catcher to the senate majority leader should be required to digest Eggers' and O'Leary's modern day manifesto for getting government to do big things (and not just voicing hollow promises). This book will never be mistaken for a boring, required text reserved for freshman political science students. Rather it is a creative, thoughtful and often witty book, read easily on a tropical vacation, at your desk or on your couch. If our representative government, often mired by inefficiencies and unmotivated, life-long government workers who believe their position with the Federal government is an entitlement rather than an opportunity, is ever going to again accomplish exceptional achievements like putting a man on the moon, then this book must be an essential tool. A blueprint for delivering on the promises of reforming healthcare and addressing global warming lie in the pages of this book. Let's hope those charged with delivering on making government better have the courage to heed the words of Eggers and O'Leary.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I wish my textbooks had been this interesting April 11, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Examining dozens of case studies on large U.S. government projects, the authors illustrate the challenges faced by government decision-makers and agencies in policy formulation, implementation, and oversight, and the extraordinary difficulty in getting the incentives right in all of these phases. Speaking as someone who has spent the past quarter-century directly supporting federal agencies and studying their large-scale projects as an academic, I believe the authors have done a superb job of capturing the essential issues that can either enable or hinder success. And refreshingly, they do it in a balanced, non-partisan way.
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.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Witty, Concise, Case-centric
So many management books rely on academic studies which, to say the least, are boring.

This book takes the case-study approach. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Adam H
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for project management insights into federal government.
I am a retired civil servant who worked in some capacities on several of the large issues covered in the book in a mid management, analyst role. Read more
Published 12 months ago by rp coordinator
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable, and remarkably entertaining
One scholarly reviewer named Eggers and O'Leary's work "the most important book on government since James Q. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Paul Frandano
4.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting study in the dirty details of politics
This is a book that all lawmakers and politicians should read every few years (not that they would though). Read more
Published 21 months ago by Robert Kirk
5.0 out of 5 stars Relevant, applicable page-turner on how to revive effective government
Perhaps you've heard the old complaint: "If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we...?" This argument can apply to many challenges facing the US today. But help is on the way. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Rolf Dobelli
4.0 out of 5 stars ok
It's an interesting book but just ok. Had to read it for a graduate class in policy analysis and it was helpful but not the best text for class.
Published on July 3, 2012 by Caroline
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical and inspiring
Great read! As a public employee, the authors managed my expectations about what I can, can't, and should do in government.
Published on March 3, 2011 by Nj Lugo-montanez
5.0 out of 5 stars A damning - and hopeful - assessment evolves in a recommendation for...
If We Can Put a Man on the Moon... Getting Big Things Done in Government provides an inspiring assessment covering how government can turn big ideas into results. Read more
Published on January 16, 2011 by Midwest Book Review
4.0 out of 5 stars A Business Book for Government
"If We Can Put a Man on the Moon" reminds me of the business books I see reviewed in magazines or on store shelves more than the typical political science text. Read more
Published on August 22, 2010 by Marc Korman
5.0 out of 5 stars How-to Manual for Effective Government
Taking Project Apollo as its launching point, Eggers and O'Leary walk us through the steps required to get any ambitious project done in government. Read more
Published on June 30, 2010 by Michael Belfiore
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