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If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government 1st Edition

4.9 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1422166369
ISBN-10: 1422166368
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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the Tolstoy syndrome of seeing only what you want to see in a problem; policy designed to pass through legislatures but not for implementation; overconfidence that results in unrealistic budgets and time lines; complacency that fails to recognize the need for change; and fumbling throughout the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
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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: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #698,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert A. Knisely on 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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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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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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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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