Potomac Chronicle

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.

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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

How Much Can (and Should) Government Protect People from Natural Disaster?

It didn’t take long after the tragedy of the Oso, Wash., March mudslide for everyone to wonder: Should local officials have done more to prevent people from building in harm’s way?

The local emergency management director, John Pennington, was grief-stricken. “We did everything we could,” he told reporters. He added, “Sometimes big events just happen. Sometimes large events that nobody sees happen. And this just happened.” READ MORE

How Big Cities Push Big New Ideas

This story appears in Governing's annual International issue.

Four years ago, I attended the sixth annual Richard J. Daley Global Cities Forum, designed by the University of Illinois in Chicago to convene more than 2,000 public and private leaders “to discuss, analyze and propose pragmatic and innovative solutions that will enhance the lives of city-dwellers around the globe.”  READ MORE