Former Fed Chair Launches Group to Restore Trust in Government

Shelley Metzenbaum earlier this month left the Obama administration. Shelley Metzenbaum earlier this month left the Obama administration. Kristoffer Tripplaar

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, a veteran of several government reform commissions, announced on Wednesday that he has launched a good-government organization of his own.

The Volcker Alliance, which Volker formally unveiled as he prepared for a speech at the Economic Club of New York, “seeks to rekindle intellectual, practical, and academic interest in the implementation of policy – the `nuts and bolts’ of governance – and serve as a catalyst for sustained government improvement,” he said in a mission statement posted at volckeralliance.org.

“There is an urgent need to restore trust and pride in the way our public institutions implement policies – from the White House and Congress to statehouses, cities, and towns across our country and in democracies around the world,” the statement said. Volcker called for focusing greater attention on the practicalities of how policies are administered and implemented as well as how “private initiatives and incentives can be allied with public purpose.” Progress can be achieved through trained managers, smart technologies and technical expertise, he added, and through “strong incentives for public service rather than private gain.”

Shelley Metzenbaum has been tapped to serve as president of the Volcker Alliance. Metzenbaum earlier this month left the Obama administration, where she was the associate director for performance and personnel management at the Office of Management and Budget.

“Rebuilding public trust in our state, local, and federal institutions begins with improving the administration of our policies,” Volcker said in praise of Metzenbaum’s “unique” qualifications. “Shelley, working with our distinguished board, will lead the institute to bring together our best schools of public service and other interested institutions to help solve the issues that impede policy execution.”

The bipartisan board includes such veterans of federal service as Alice Rivlin, the first head of the Congressional Budget Office; William Donaldson, former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.; Charles Bowsher, former comptroller general; Donna Shalala, former Health and Human Services Secretary; and Sheila Bair, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

With a reported budget goal of $5 million annually, the organization is being run out of Volcker’s New York City office and will partner in research with academics and such groups as the Partnership for Public Service and the RAND Corp.

Volcker, who has chaired commissions on public service and federal pay, was asked whether his announcement was inspired by recent reporting on scandals under President Obama’s leadership. “Certainly not,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about the need for such an institute for years. I will say, however, that the challenges the administration has faced recently at the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department -- like so many other challenges faced by prior administrations during my lifetime -- underscore the relevance that government’s execution of its policies has on the lives of its citizens.”

Some observers have pointed to irony in the fact that a good example of how slowly the government’s wheels turn nowadays is the so-called Volcker Rule, a part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law that would restrict large banks’ ability to engage in risky trading in investments that do not benefit their customers. Regulations to implement it are bogged down after three years of drafting by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and other financial agencies.

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