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A Government Ill Executed: The Decline of the Federal Service and How to Reverse It Hardcover – May 30, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0674028081 ISBN-10: 0674028082

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674028082
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674028081
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,548,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

A brilliant and insightful analysis and action plan to make our government work. Bravo!
--Donna Shalala, Former Secretary of Health and Human Services and President of the University of Miami

Ever since Hurricane Katrina, we have bemoaned the costs of incompetent government. But Paul Light has done much more: he has focused his enormous energies and brilliant mind on exactly how to create a government that works well. That's why Light's voice is so important in our national debate, and why this is such an important book. Whatever your ideology, you need to pay attention to what Light says about how to achieve competence and even excellence in government. The next president needs to read this book, and so do the voters who have a right to expect something better in the coming years.
--E. J. Dionne, Jr., author of Why Americans Hate Politics and Souled Out

Paul Light has made a major contribution to rethinking federal bureaucracy at a crucial time in its evolution. With the retirement of the baby boom bureaucrats there will be a greater opportunity to rethink and reshape the federal government than at any time since the New Deal. If it is done with the kind of thoughtfulness Light proposes it could profoundly improve the delivery of government services and the quality of the federal work force.
--Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House

[A] book that ought to be read by every candidate for federal office this year...[It] goes beyond the complaints to describe what’s happened inside federal agencies to make them less effective. (Minneapolis Star Tribune 2008-06-22)

Not only the presidential candidates, but everyone running for Congress should read this book. If our political leaders do not confront this pattern of desperate concern, says this sober scholar, "they are likely to preside over a string of meltdowns that will make the federal response to Hurricane Katrina look like a minor mistake."
--Bill Moyers ("Bill Moyers Journal," PBS)

The book is A Government Ill Executed. I urge you to read it. It is an important book, and I hope that Senators Obama and McCain are looking at that book as we speak.
--Lou Dobbs (CNN)

The next administration had best heed Light's call to focus on getting a coherent, shorter nomination and confirmation process that encourages talented people to sign up for government service.
--Al Kamen (The Washington Post)

I urge you to read A Government Ill Executed. It is an important book, and I hope that Senators Obama and McCain are looking at the book as we speak.
--Lou Dobbs, Lou Dobbs Tonight on CNN

So, not only the presidential candidates, but everyone running for Congress should read this book. If our political leaders do not confront this pattern of desperate concern, says this sober scholar, "they are likely to preside over a string of meltdowns that will make the federal response to Hurricane Katrina look like a minor mistake."
--Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal on PBS

The next administration had best heed Light's call to focus on getting a coherent, shorter nomination and confirmation process that encourages talented people to sign up for government service.
--Al Kamen (Washington Post 2008-05-14)

This book provides an important contribution to the literature on federal personnel, and it should be required reading among scholars who study the federal bureaucracy, the U.S. presidency, and public administration.
--A. L. Warber (Choice 2008-12-01)

About the Author

Paul C. Light is Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service at New York University.

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Dwight Ink on July 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"A Government Ill Executed" by Paul Light is the most useful book I have read recently concerning the operation of our federal government. He finds it plagued by poor execution, citing such familiar examples as negligent medical care of veterans, contract problems in Iraq, and the Katrina debacle, a decline he is eager to reverse.

Light goes back to Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, finding traces of each in the strengths and weaknesses of our modern government. In fact, the theme of the book is similar to that of Alexander Hamilton when he argued in Federalist Paper No. 70 that "a government ill executed is a bad government."

Much of this very readable book is devoted to problems that Light believes have led to a significant decline in the effectiveness of the federal government. For example, he describes the increased layering of the federal government and the growing number of low-level political appointees that slow government processes and dilute accountability. Light laments the current conditions that reduce the ability of government to attract talented men and women to the federal career service, and once in government, reduces their incentive to remain.

In citing these and other growing deficiencies, Light suggests the need for a bold attack to reverse this decline, pointing out that addressing only one problem at a time will have little impact. To move beyond merely tinkering with change, he urges a packaging of actions that address a number of interrelated problems. His agenda lists 28 specific changes designed to restore a more energetic federal service.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Future Watch Writer on June 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a very important book. Public service is nothing short of a life and death matter for any country. Unfortunately, there is little attention in official Washington to finding ways to make the civil service better. Paul Light is an exception. He used to run a program at a major Washington think tank dealing with this subject. Many people might be shocked to know that when administrations change our system is so archaic that many agencies are not fully staffed for up to two years. I don't agree with everything here but this is a rare and detailed study of a subject that is vitally important. For more information check my Listmania list on the subject of public service.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Thomas M. Magee on September 25, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a good book. I highly recommend it to anyone who is a political junkie or a government insider. Paul Light says some things that no one else is saying. He really uncovers what is truly happening to government that effects how it operates.

This book is primarily an academic book. It is not written in a way to excite. However it is very well documented. His work comes primarily from his own research. Paul also bases his book in basic theory, quoting Jefferson and Hamilton, and the Federalist papers frequently throughout the book. The book is very well organized. The ideas are laid out in a nice easy to understand manor that gets well wrapped up in the end.

The book is kind of tame. His points are buried in facts. He does mention something no one else anywhere does. Paul Light talks about the secret growth of government. He documents the size of government that Washington seems to try to hide. The secret government is the growth of government contracts. The ratio of contractors in 90 was like 1 to 3. Now the ration is 5 or 6 to 1. These contractors frequently costs twice as much as civil servants. I also like his point about how reform has become a shell game. The government is constantly reforming, a point which he documents well. This constant change does take attention away from true performance. I also like his point about the retirement wave lurking in the near future. This is a huge event that people in Washington seem to want to avoid. Every now and then someone talks about it. However there hasn't been much increase in hiring to match the words.

I think if you work in the system or are a very serious student of the system you need to read the book. It will open up your eyes to some points that go against the grain and you haven't thought about before.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Retired Reader on July 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The compilation of newspaper articles known as the "Federalist Papers" contains some of the best analysis of the art of government to be found. The purpose of these articles was to present the arguments for ratifying the proposed U.S. Constitution. One section of this work (Federalist Papers 70-77) contained a detailed analysis of the Executive Branch by Alexander Hamilton which included his analysis of federal government operations. Light had the inspired idea to use this section as a standard against which to measure the effectiveness of current government operations. Indeed the book's title is from an observation by Hamilton (Federalist 70) that, "... a government ill-executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government."

This book is not a detailed look at specific Federal Bureaucracies, but a broad critique of federal government operations and the civil service that executes them. Its primary argument is, that measured against Hamilton's idea of "vigor and expedition", the present civil service is found severely wanting. This is not a book that assigns blame. Its purpose is to try to identify why the civil service has failed at its primary function to effectively execute its governmental responsibilities. Light builds his chapters around what he has identified as seven requirements for an energetic public service. In each chapter he attempts to demonstrate how the failure to meet these requirements prevents the civil service from being effective. In a general sense Light has developed a persuasive argument for what is wrong with the current U.S. System of Public Service and how to fix it.

His work is flawed however by several acts of commission and omission. He makes far too much use of surveys which like polls are inherently dubious.
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