Thursday
Oct092014

Beatrice Edwards, Executive Director of Government Accountability Project, talks on Whistleblowers: Regulators of Last Resort.

Beatrice Edwards, Executive Director of Government Accountability Project, provided us with a compelling symposium presentation last night as she spoke on the role of whistleblowers in protecting citizens’ basic rights.   Dr. Edwards discussed the arguments presented in her recent book, The Rise of the American Corporate Security State: Six Reasons to be Afraid.  She highlighted two major events from the twenty first century that have transformed the relationship between government surveillance and citizens’ rights: the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the financial crisis beginning in 2008.  She gave us fascinating insight into the stories of whistleblowers who tried to draw attention to fraud and other concerns, and who were severely thwarted in their efforts or ignored e.g. Thomas Drake and Eileen Foster.   She raised concerns about the gathering of information and also about the interchange of information between private corporations and the intelligence community and argued for more protections for whistleblowers, in an environment that is currently only covered by a patchwork of (often weak/ineffective) laws.  A lively question and answer session followed with a number of questions centering on the role of Edward Snowden and the balance to be found between classification for security concerns and constitutional protections.

Wednesday
Oct082014

Government Analytics Breakfast Forum

On October 9, 2014, the Johns Hopkins University Government Analytics Program and REI Systems hosted the inaugural meeting of the Government Analytics Breakfast (GAB) Forum.  The GAB Forum brings together professionals from academia, government and industry to discuss advances in data-driven decision making in the public sector. The Forum meets every other month on Wednesday mornings from 8:30-10am.

This first meeting featured Kathy Stack, Advisor for Evidence-Based Innovation at the Office of Management and Budget.  Kathy’s presentation addressed the question, do data analytics actually influence government funding and administration policy?  She explained that, in recent years, OMB has tried to "create an ecosystem for using data and evidence for decision making."  In particular, federal agencies are encouraged to build bridges between their research arms and program arms.  The effectiveness of government programs is much improved if their evaluation is informed by the practices and expertise of researchers.  Further, there is a substantial amount of data that goes unutilized because of tenuous connections between the policy/program and research wings.

Beyond creating tighter linkages within agencies, there is a need for more inter-agency cooperation.  Agencies often collect data that, when combined, can be used to answer important questions.  For example, the Department of Education and Social Security Administration worked together to identify whether students in new trade-school programs were obtaining jobs with sustainable incomes upon graduating.

Kathy also emphasized the need for more inexpensive, randomized controlled experiments to identify the causal effects of programs on stated objectives.  She provided several examples of the ways in which the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services are using low-cost experiments to improve programs related to student financial aid and the mentorship of children of prisoners.

The key takeaway from the talk was that many agencies would do well to move from a compliance-based to an evidence-based approach when evaluating government programs.  In other words, agencies should focus more on continuosly evaluating whether programs are achieving desired outcomes (and how to fix them if they are not) rather than on determining whether programs are being implemented exactly as they were designed.

GAB Forum participants represented a number of different agencies and private sector organizations.  A full recording of the presentation can be found here.

We look forward to our next meeting, which will be held on December 10.  More details to come.

Thursday
Oct022014

Robert Bauer, former White House Counsel to President Obama, addresses students on campaign finance reform

Robert Bauer, former White Counsel to President Obama, partner at Perkins and Coie and Co-Chair of the Presidential Commission on Election Reform, delivered a most compelling symposia talk last night about campaign finance reform and the impact such laws have on democratic politics.  Mr. Bauer, one of the nation's leading authorities on campaign finance laws and regulations on political activity, shared his insights on one of the most fundamental questions to a democratic order:  How far can government go to expunge corruption and safeguard the processes of government from political money, in fact, and in appearance? How these laws are fashioned has enormous political implications, as Mr. Bauer noted, regarding who wins, who loses, and more broadly, how politics is conducted (e.g., do some laws like the "stand by your ad" one help to produce less negative campaigns? Are political parties important intermediaries that shield candidates from corruption or are parties simply vehicles for corruption?) .  Mr. Bauer provided a concise history of campaign finance reforms dating back to the post Watergate era to McCain-Feingold before exploring the implications of the two most recent Supreme Court cases, Citizens United and McCutcheon.   Mr. Bauer concluded his talk suggesting that we need to tease out better the political implications  and assumptions of these regulations and how they change and impact the political process.  

 

 

Tuesday
Sep232014

Marc Dunkelman Discusses His New Book, The Vanishing Neighbor, at JHU Center Brown Bag Lunch

Marc Dunkelman, a Research Fellow at Brown University's A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and a Senior Fellow at the Clinton Foundation, spent the lunch hour on Thursday discussing his recent book The Vanishing Neighbor:  The Transformation of American Community.  The book offers an important contribution to the debate over of what is happening with American civil society, how we might save it from further decline, and why this matters to American democracy.  In this sense, Mr. Dunkleman follows in the footsteps of influential sociologists such as Robert Nisbet, Nathan Glazer, David Reisman, and more recently Harvard Professor Robert Putnam.  Mr. Dunkleman focuses on the decline of what he calls "middle ring"  relationships which are distinct from inner and outer ones.  For example, inner ring relationships include family and close friends while outer ring relationships involve professional associations or transactional ones found in social media or virtual communities.  Today, we are more and more in touch with the outer rings -- the fellow members of "like" groups on Facebook who we will never meet in person.  Americans are increasingly abandoning the middle ring relationships -- familiarity with neighbors, fellow parents at the local school or PTA, civic groups and clubs.  This is presenting a crisis of sorts as these middle ring relationships have been responsible throughout American history for building the sense of township and community,  providing, in essence, the connective tissue that builds social capital, so vital to the health of democratic self-government. Mr. Dunkelman suggests that the decline in our middle ring interactions could in part explain the excessive partisanship in Washington, DC.  That is, by only interacting with inner and outer rings -- our ability to interact with others who we may have less in common with atrophies.   Mr. Dunkelman  said there are no easy solutions to this problem -- though he did raise the possibility of national service for young people, but recognizing the decline is an important first step. 

 

Thursday
Sep112014

Research in Graduate Studies (RIGS) Symposia Last Night A Huge Hit!

Thank you to (as picture above) Megan Ortagus, Kenneth Ames, and Mary Ellen Mitchell  for speaking to students last night at the RIGS symposia and sharing their strategies and experiences researching and writing their theses and capstone paper.  Students greatly benefited hearing directly from alumni about the thesis and capstone process, what to expect and pitfalls to be avoided.  Especially encouraging was hearing from the alumni panelists about how the thesis and capstone process impacted their career aspirations, helping them to develop writing and analytical skills, as well as expertise, that served to advance them in their fields of work.