Potomac Chronicle

Crazy Quilt Federalism

We launched Governing magazine 27 years ago in the belief that most of the innovation and energy in American government, both in policymaking and management, was occurring at the state and local levels, not in Washington. 

Just four months before our first issue rolled off the press, John Herbers, a reporter for The New York Times and one of Governing’s first columnists, wrote a long analysis in the Times about how the structure of governance was changing. READ MORE

Paul Ryan Declares War on the War on Poverty

In a truly stunning speech this summer, former Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin declared war on the “War on Poverty.” The strategy he offered up is fascinating and thoughtful, and it captures just how much the nation has changed since Lyndon B. Johnson first declared that war 50 years ago. 

The plan Ryan proposed gives states the option of combining up to 11 federal grant programs, including food stamps, welfare and housing aid, into a single block grant. States would be given a lot of flexibility in figuring out how best to spend the money; their only objective would be getting clients from welfare to work. The feds, in return, would pledge not to cut funding. READ MORE

Are Governments Neglecting Planes and Trains?

I recently completed a one-week white water rafting trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, an experience that was both exhilarating and terrifying. It wasn’t just the Class IV rapids that held my intense interest, though. It also was my fellow rafters -- 16 of them, almost all of whom knew one another. Unlike most of these expeditions, this one was all amateur, meaning there were no professional guides from some outfitter, just rented rafts, huge coolers, a camp stove and, yes, a port-a-potty. You brought your own tent and sleeping bag. 

I was especially impressed by three fellows -- a lawyer, an astrophysicist (or “chaos scientist,” as he called himself) and a senior pilot with United Airlines. The three were very capable river guides who could maneuver the 16-foot rafts down roaring rapids with great skill; all three were also associated with a consulting firm that contracts with NASA to help develop something I only vaguely knew of called NextGen, a joint multiagency and industry initiative to overhaul the nation’s air traffic control system. READ MORE

Why a VA Scandal Is Unlikely to Happen at the Local Level

Imagine this scenario: Managers feel intense pressure from senior officials to demonstrate they’re meeting tough performance targets. They push hard on front-line workers to massage the numbers to demonstrate progress. But then stories leak out that managers have been sweeping problems under the rug by misreporting performance numbers. The top dog suddenly finds himself in a harsh spotlight.


The Great Water Paradox

For me, the problem with water has gotten personal. Along with other fishermen last fall in northwest Michigan (where my wife and I live part of the year), I watched in near-horror as thousands of salmon struggled to swim up the Betsie River to spawn, only to beach themselves on sand bars because the water levels were so low -- almost three feet below normal. The state’s Department of Natural Resources closed down a number of popular fishing areas and started dredging canals near the mouths of some rivers in an effort to allow the fish to swim upriver.

This fall, the good news is that things should be much better, thanks to a very cold winter that froze over the lake for the first time in decades -- reducing evaporation -- and a snowfall that was 40 to 50 inches above normal. READ MORE