Volcker Alliance Newsletter: Metzenbaum Pushes Innovation, Ravitch Memoir, Gaurav Vasisht joins Alliance, Q&A with the President
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Alliance President Metzenbaum Presses for More Attention to Federal Management, Hiring 

The cornerstone of our work at the Volcker Alliance is restoring trust in government and strengthening execution of public policies. In March, Alliance President Shelley Metzenbaum took this message to Capitol Hill as she joined three other experts to testify about the Obama Administration’s second-term management agenda at a hearing convened by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. 

Dr. Metzenbaum, a former Associate Director for Performance and Personnel Management at the White House Office of Management and Budget, called for government agencies to become "more skilled at applying existing evidence, generating new knowledge, and using experimentation and innovation to test new approaches to program delivery." In response to questions from Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE), she further discussed how Congressional attention to a few priority issues – asking about progress and learning how problems are being addressed – could be transformative in areas where Congress and the Administration agree about the issue’s importance. 

She continued the push in April, appearing on Federal News Radio’s "Federal Drive with Emily Kopp" for a wide-ranging conversation centering on the federal government’s use of goals, measures and forward-thinking hiring practices. She argued that if the government wants "fresh young minds who understand new technologies…we must fix broken federal internship programs." Additionally, she discussed the Volcker Alliance’s new initiatives to close gaps in the structure of financial regulation and expose gimmickry in state budgeting.
Vasisht Joins Alliance to Manage Financial Regulatory Reform Project

Gaurav Vasisht joined the Volcker Alliance in April to manage the Alliance’s project on structural reform of the federal financial regulatory system. Prior to joining the Alliance, Gaurav served as Executive Deputy Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, heading the agency’s Banking Division. Gaurav has also served as Senior Deputy Superintendent of Insurance, First Assistant Counsel and Assistant Counsel to three Governors of New York, and Assistant Attorney General in the Investment Protection Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office. In his time in government, Gaurav conducted investigations that led to significant industry-wide reforms, helped develop and author statutes and regulations concerning financial services, and spoke frequently on issues of significance to the financial services industry. Gaurav’s work has been covered in numerous publications, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times.

Five Questions for the President
Between testifying on Capitol Hill for better measurement and management practices and working to strengthen networks of local government innovators, Shelley Metzenbaum spoke with Alliance staffer Peter Morrissey about the Alliance’s vision for better government and its approach to driving change.

Q: What has the Volcker Alliance been up to in the last few months?

A: It’s been a busy time. For starters, we are practicing what we preach: set clear objectives and strategies, act, gauge progress, and adjust as we learn. 

So what is our objective?  More effective, trusted government, at all levels.

Q: What are your key strategies for achieving this objective?

A: Three paths to start. First, we will identify significant systemic or structural problems that impede government progress and pick a few where, by convening key people, gathering relevant research, making recommendations and promoting their adoption, the Alliance can make a difference.

Second, we will build government delivery capacity by focusing on three targets of opportunity – research and education; performance, impact and innovation; and state/local delivery.

Third, as our name suggests, we plan to build an alliance, not a large new institution, to catalyze increased attention and action to improve the execution of public policy. One way we will do that is reaching out to existing networks of interested change agents, and encouraging new networks where it will help. We want to create a vanguard for change and thriving knowledge and action networks. Our initial problem-solving projects are out of the starting gate, even as we begin to build formal and informal partnerships. 

Q: Can you describe the work of the initial projects?

A: One project—for which we’ve just hired Gaurav Vasisht as project manager—is looking at the structure of the financial regulatory system. The recent financial regulatory reform law (Dodd-Frank) did not fix cracks and inconsistencies between and across federal financial regulatory agencies and they continue to place non-trivial risk on the system. This needs more attention, and we are providing it.

A second project builds on the work of the State Budget Crisis Task Force and takes on gimmicks in state budgeting and finance. Our aim is to expose and reduce practices state governments use to kick the financial can down the road, burdening future generations and underinvesting in education, infrastructure, and other areas critical to the health of our communities and their residents.

Q: What do you mean when you say that the Volcker Alliance is working with networks?

A: Let me give you one example that illustrates how we hope to work with networks. I recently spoke at the kick-off benchmarking meeting of Mid-Atlantic StatNet (“Statistics Network”), a group of county and city officials in Maryland, Virginia and DC committed to learning from their own and others’ experience how to accomplish more for less.

The meeting I attended was modeled after and facilitated by New England StatNet, a vibrant network of 40 communities supported by UMass Boston’s Collins Center for Public Management. These communities came together to find ways to improve, learning from peers and building understanding of how to use data to ask better questions that lead to more cost-effective practices. I was invited to speak at this event in part because New England StatNet was launched when I started up the Collins Center. Now that I am at the Volcker Alliance, we hope to encourage more StatNet efforts, university-state-local partnerships that strengthen local government delivery capacity.

Q: You like to talk about the power of goal-setting for governments. Care to share a current government goal that’s caught your attention?

A: A great example that comes to mind is VisionZero, New York City’s new goal to eliminate traffic fatalities. It’s an ambitious, comprehensive undertaking that will require collaboration between City Hall, the NYPD, the Department of Transportation and other agencies to make progress on a shared priority. In this case, smart goal-setting is likely to save a lot of lives. After all, 178 New Yorkers were killed in traffic in 2013, and over 16,000 pedestrians and cyclists were injured. I’m heartened to see the Department of Transportation  learning from experiences in other locations (such as London’s traffic reforms, the impacts of 

which can be seen in this chart), while tailoring lessons learned to NYC circumstances, which are very different than where this has been tried before. Achieving this goal will not be easy, and in some cases may provoke controversy. But as FDR said, “It is common sense to take a method and try it: if it fails, admit it frankly and try another.” Establishing this high-visibility goal keeps the pressure on the City to find ways to meet it.
Follow Shelley Metzenbaum on Twitter

'So Much to Do' Wins Praise for Board Member Ravitch

Volcker Alliance Board Member Richard Ravitch’s book, So Much to Do, A Full Life of Business Politics and Confronting Fiscal Crises, is garnering rave reviews following the favorable reception afforded last year’s final report of the State Budget Crisis Task Force, chaired by the former New York lieutenant governor and Alliance Chairman Paul A. Volcker.

New York Times writer Sam Roberts called the book "a serendipitous memoir illustrating the education of a public man; an enlightening, prescriptive citizen's manual into making government work; and a passionate 'ode to democracy.'" Along with a book tour, Ravitch has been making the rounds of TV shows to discuss his part in the financial rescue of New York City and his new role as a consultant to Detroit’s bankruptcy judge. He is also reinforcing the point made by the Task Force that many U.S. municipalities are pursuing unsustainable fiscal policies. According to Ravitch, that may present the federal government with numerous crises — and an opportunity to take action.

Introducing Ravitch at the annual dinner of the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, Volcker said his colleague’s story "helps reinforce faith in our strained democratic system." Continued Volcker: "It’s about politics and government, and reassuring about the management of our city and country to ultimately solve big problems."
Alliance Senior Advisor Light Delivers Levine Memorial Lecture
Dr. Paul Light, Senior Advisor to the Volcker Alliance, delivered the Fifth Annual Charles H. Levine Memorial Lecture at American University in April, discussing "The National Commission on the Public Service at Twenty-Five Years and Counting." The 1989 Commission, which called for reforms to revitalize the civil service, was chaired by Alliance Chairman Paul A. Volcker. The late Dr. Levine was deputy director of the Commission’s staff, on which Dr. Light also served as a senior advisor. 

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The Volcker Alliance Newsletter
Issue 3 - May 21, 2014


William Glasgall
Follow @WGlasgall

Managing Editor:
Peter Morrissey

Production Director:
Noah Winn-Ritzenberg

William Glasgall, Paul Light, Shelley Metzenbaum,
Peter Morrissey, Gaurav Vasisht,
Noah Winn-Ritzenberg
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Copyright © 2014 Volcker Alliance, Inc., All rights reserved.

Volcker Alliance Newsletter, Issue 3
May 21, 2014