Fedblog FedblogFedblog
Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

A Scholar of the Bureaucracy Remembered

ARCHIVES

I was saddened today to learn of the death of James Q. Wilson, one of the leading political scientists of his generation and a key thinker about how government really works. I've returned to his book Bureaucracy (eloquently summarized by my erstwhile colleague and Fedblogger Alyssa Rosenberg here) many times over the years for insights about the machinery of government.

The book contains two of my favorite quotes. First is this, from the preface to a recent edition:

We have less confidence in government precisely because it is trying to do many things that cannot be done, by anyone, very well.

Then there's this, about a topic of great interest to the Obama administration these days -- reorganizing federal agencies:

Presidents have taken to reorganizations the way overweight people take to fad diets -- and with about the same results.

Wilson gained fame for his highly influential 1982 piece "Broken Windows" in our sister publication, The Atlantic, which posited that failing to stop small acts of criminal behavior in urban areas led to greater crimes. His work won him the respect and admiration of many conservatives.

But Wilson also acknowledged the power of government to effect change in society. Just last year, in a piece in The Wall Street Journal, he tried to come up with an explanation for why the crime rate didn't explode amidst the recent recession -- as experts predicted based on historical trends. His theory was that societal actions, many of them undertaken by government entities, combined to have a positive effect on crime. Some actions were direct, such as stepped-up law enforcement. Others were indirect and long-term. Environmental Protection Agency efforts since 1974 to keep lead out of gasoline and paint products, for example, may have resulted in reduced crime rates by curbing the aggressive behavior linked to lead exposure.

That's just one example of the kind of thinking embodied in Wilson's work that will be greatly missed.

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download
  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.