Book Review (Outsourced) on a Life in Public Service

March 21st, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Here’s something we’ve never done before up here in OTE-land.  My CBPP colleague and pal Paul Van de Water wrote a short review of a book he thought readers here might find interesting.  I haven’t read it myself but I plan to.  I actually took a course in grad school on the policy process which turned out to have virtually nothing to do with the…um…policy process.  For that, you need to listen to the people who were there at the time.

So, without further ado, check it out:

A Journey Through Governance

Bill Morrill was Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) at the old Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) when I started working there in the 1970s.  Bill has now written a 175-page memoir about his federal career, A Journey Through Governance: A Public Servant’s Experience Under Six Presidents.  It’s well worth a read.

After graduating from the Maxwell School in 1953, Morrill began work as a management assistant at U.S. Air Force headquarters in the Pentagon, moving to the military division of the Bureau of the Budget (later OMB) in 1962.  Leaving OMB in 1971 out of frustration over the Vietnam war, Morrill served for a year as deputy county executive of Fairfax County, Virginia.  Caspar Weinberger invited Morrill back to OMB in 1972 as an assistant director.  When Weinberger became HEW Secretary in 1973, Morrill went along as ASPE, a position he held until the end of the Ford Administration.  Morrill helped James Schlesinger plan the new Department of Energy under President Carter but soon left the federal government for a distinguished private-sector career, including a stint as president of Mathematica.

Morrill’s book is full of an insider’s vignettes showing how both personal leadership and good analysis can influence policy outcomes — or fail to influence them.  Many of these examples still resonate strongly today:  Nixon’s abortive second attempt at welfare reform, his unsuccessful proposal for national health insurance, and the creation of the Title XX Social Services Block Grant.  At ASPE, Morrill also directed the release the initial labor-supply results from the income-maintenance experiments and protected the health insurance experiment from critics’ efforts to terminate it.

From his experiences Morrill draws useful lessons about a range of timely topics, including the roles of civil servants and political appointees, the intersection of research and politics, relations between the Executive and Congress, leadership and staffing in government, and successful program implementation.   Recently, before the 2008 election, Morrill foresaw the administrative and management challenges facing any health reform initiative, and he led an effort by the National Academy of Public Administration and National Academy of Social Insurance (of which I was staff director) to identify issues and recommend solutions.

Anyone interested in how public policies are made, and can be made better, will find A Journey Through Governance enjoyable, instructive, and inspiring.

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