The Consultant President


The Consultant President

By Tony Lucadamo

If you have not already, I encourage you to watch a recent PBS Frontline special on the Presidents entitled, “The Choice 2012.” The show’s season premiere takes an in-depth look at the backgrounds of both Presidential nominees.

Mitt Romney’s time as Governor of Massachusetts gets thorough coverage as part of the episode. To that end, some interesting quotes come out of the associated interviews.

David Brooks of the New York Times states:

“I really think that he is a product of a world where you do market research. You find out what’s working and not working. You do controlled experiments. And then you dovetail the product to suit the marketplace. He’s looked at the market and he’s seen what niche there is.”

Benjamin Wallace-Wells of New York Magazine adds:

“Mitt Romney was unable to consider the question [of abortion] in the abstract. He dealt with it as a managerial problem or case study.”

But the most interesting point was this. Nicholas Lemann of the New Yorker remarked:

“It’s a little bit like a consulting engagement. You go in. You figure out what the problems are. You fix things. You make things more organized. Then you go on to the next challenge.”

Romney’s senior advisors essentially concur in later statements. Their narrative runs like a private equity assignment. He presented a product – the socially liberal, fiscally conservative Governor — which he thought would meet demand. He then did what he could given a Democratic-controlled State legislature. In particular, he picked the issue of healthcare and made it the main issue of his four years in office.


Yet, in many ways, this alternate method is nothing new. Certainly, populism has been around for a long time.

Indeed, its legacy goes all the way back to our country’s founding. Before his fall from grace, Aaron Burr rose to the Vice Presidency in similar fashion. History remembers him primarily as a dueler and possible traitor. Yet, to many contemporaries, he was a deft strategist. He projected the necessary image to each interested parties in the divisive, pluralistic New York political scene of the time.

President Clinton presents the best example of the modern version. Following a poor showing in his first set of midterm elections, he made a distinct move to the center in response to public opinion.

However, Governor Romney’s profile is slightly different. Perhaps it is an evolution of the executive-centered, efficiency-minded values that took root in the Progressive Era combined with a populism gleaned through the lens of modern business.

The service sector constitutes an increasing proportion of U.S. GDP with each passing year. In that case, it should come as no surprise that this new generation of leaders is upon us.

Men and women who have built their careers in private equity and consulting may increasingly seek to transfer their skills into politics.

There is equal fodder for both pessimists and optimists in that case.

On the plus side, there is something reassuring in such technocratic leadership. In the case of Massachusetts, the healthcare system was a product of Romney’s distinct style. He brought in experts from MIT to crunch the numbers. Before towing the party line, he took a hard look at arithmetic. He then systematically went about getting the legislature on board with a system designed to be bipartisan enough to pass.

Americans may find that last point particularly reassuring. The capacity to compromise has been in short supply in an era of distinct polarization.

The failed attempt at a “grand bargain” over the country’s budget comes to mind as an immediate example of failures in bipartisanship. Many Americans then, may warm to the idea of a leader capable of bridging the divide. In an era when so much change appears forthcoming, perhaps a true mediator is exactly what the country needs.

That said, we do not want to completely overstate the facts. Transcribing past success at the state level to the national stage is fraught with uncertainty. There is no guarantee that what worked as Governor will apply as President. As President, Romney will have to contend with a hyperpartisan and polarized Congress.

While Romney had to reach across the aisle in Massachusetts, the political environment was different. The relative gap between the two sides has grown more pronounced in recent years, especially at the national level. Thus, what worked then may not easily convert to the executive branch in 2013.

Taking a further step back, some voters may find the shifting nature of respective stances to be a vice. In some ways, the idea of constantly changing views to suit the next electorate is disconcerting. Afterall, the Founders believed that the political system should provide for some continuity and stability.

There is a fine line between being amenable to democratic realities and having a lack of principles. The more a leader reverses position, the more the latter has the appearance of being true.

Thus, Governor Romney’s attributes are a bit ambiguous. Perhaps his suitability for office is in the eye of the beholder.

However, that tendency towards the perception of untrustworthiness bears remembrance. It could be the razor’s edge on which future would-be consultant populists rise and fall in higher office.

Two New Speakers Scheduled for NJC 2015!

VPR is pleased to announce two new speakers for the 3rd Annual National Journal Conference for Schools of Public Policy and Affairs: Jeffrey Bergner and Christopher M. Brown. Check out the "NJC 2015" tab for their biographies and more information about the conference.
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The Problem With Trying: What James Piereson and Naomi Riley got horribly wrong

By Kyle Schnoebelen

Don’t go to policy school. It is a hopelessly academic silo of idealism – brick-and-mortar manifestations of the outdated notion that “bigger government was better government.” People Who Actually Matter summarily ignore policy professors. And don’t even start on the students, who think themselves too good for local government, preferring to spend their days whining about social injustice and debating what it means to be a citizen of the world. At least, don’t go if you subscribe to the above view, recently presented in the Washington Post’s Outlook section by James Piereson of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for the American University and Naomi Schaefer Riley, a former blogger at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The pair present a depressing assessment of the state of public policy education, lamenting that policy schools are no longer useful because they aren’t “preparing their graduates to fix all that needs fixing.” They’re correct, in a sense. It would be surprising to find a school in any discipline that claims to endow graduates with the ability to “fix” every relevant issue in its field. If the authors expect this of policy grads, well, that goes a long way towards explaining their disappointment.

Dismissing policy schools because graduates are not immediately capable of solving “all that needs fixing” is akin to calling medical schools useless because young MD’s have yet to cure pancreatic cancer or Alzheimer’s. No Kennedy School MPP has simultaneously made trash collection more efficient in Cambridge, eradicated poverty in Massachusetts, and protected U.S. intellectual property in China. So, game over. If waving a diploma at problems and hoping they go away isn’t working, the entire discipline must be useless.

Similarly shortsighted is Piereson and Riley’s gripe that work produced by policy academics is “less and less” accessible. Ideas, even influential ones, often lay dormant for years before circumstance makes them relevant. Healthcare scholars at the Heritage Foundation are well aware of this reality. But no matter – if only today’s ivory-tower inhabitants were less elitist, we could return to the good ol’ days when Chicago economists printed their findings on the backs of cereal boxes. I’d forgotten that James Q. Wilson developed his broken windows theory in a series of one-page blog posts.

Perhaps the observation that academic findings aren’t relevant to “actual” policymakers isn’t a reflection of quality, but a condemnation of those who focus on 30-second sound bytes. There are challenges in communicating nuance, especially to time-strapped lawmakers, who frequently ingest recommendations based on complex research findings in the form of brief elevator pitches. This presents a major obstacle, sure, but it does not warrant limiting research to the easily accessible. The average congressman isn’t an anthropologist or religious studies expert. Ask yourself: would the United States be better or worse off today if the relevant policymakers had taken more time to understand the Iraqi cultural landscape before invading in 2003?

Clichés of academics as out-of-touch dreamers are generally as harmless as they are tired. But professors, according to Piereson and Reilly, are not the only problem. Students drawn to public policy focus their attention on multifaceted, challenging issues, which apparently makes us insufferably self-important. Our predisposition creates ambition – the source of the alleged “sense of grandiosity” permeating policy schools from Berkeley to Charlottesville. This criticism of students for their focus on the big, consequential problems is both misguided and dangerous.

Piereson and Reilly ask, rhetorically, “what can policy professors and graduates possibly accomplish?” Fair question. Solutions are useless without the means to implement them, and students of public policy must be adept at finding those avenues. However, there is something cheap and cynical in simultaneously dismissing policy schools as unable to address complex issues and deriding their professors and students as ‘grandiose’ for attempting to do so in the first place. Climate change, cyclical poverty, bureaucratic inefficiency, unsustainable debt – can policy schools across the U.S. generate all, or even some, of the answers? And if they do, will the work of professors and newly minted MPP’s or MPA’s make a significant difference? Who knows, but historians waste no ink recounting the efforts of those who did not bother to try.

Policy schools should strive to produce what Thomas Jefferson referred to as “useful knowledge.” The authors are correct in their assertion that plenty of local and state problems warrant students’ time and effort alongside the so-called ‘big picture’ issues. But academic institutions devoted to developing substantive policy solutions, whatever their shortcomings, are more valuable than groups producing easily communicable but substantively bankrupt critiques. No need to recount the long list of policy school alumni who have made an enormously positive impact on the world, or the many scholars currently engaged in rigorous, critical research on issues spanning from local to international. Something more basic – about a man and an arena – comes to mind. Then again, whoever wrote those lines probably suffered from an outsized sense of grandiosity.

----- Kyle Schnoebelen serves as the Content Director of the Virginia Policy Review and its associated blog, The Third Rail. He is a second year masters candidate at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, and graduated from the University of Virginia in 2013 with a degree in history.
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The Bureau of Spousal Assignment: Could recent economic research solve both loneliness and income inequality?

By Zach Porter

There is often a time around mid-February where I find myself thinking two rather distinct thoughts. The first is generally selfish: “I sure do wish that there was someone special in my life that I could share Valentine’s Day with.” The second is entirely selfless: “I sure do wish that there was significantly less income inequality in America.”

It may seem that these two thoughts are wholly disjointed, but that’s not entirely true. What if there was some way to guarantee both companionship for self, and greater equity for all? Such an outcome may be within sight.

A recent National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) paper asserts that “positive assortative mating” has increased since the 1960s. Assortative mating is the phenomenon of individuals marrying other individuals with similar educations. According to the study like marries like in terms of education, and increasingly so. The authors use data from the U.S. Census Bureau to show that the educational gap between husbands and wives decreased from 1960 to 2005. The figure on the left comes from the paper, and illustrates the impact of a husband’s education on a wife’s relative to the baseline year, 1960.

But who cares if more educated women are marrying more educated men? And how does marital sorting affect household income inequality?

This is not a new question, and the authors cite several papers that have explored it before – each of which reach a similar conclusion: increasing assortative mating has increased household income inequality. In summarizing their findings, the authors highlight some income-to-mean-income ratios for different education pairings both in 1960 and 2005. Specifically, they find:

[box] “In 1960 if a woman with a less-than-high-school education married a similarly educated man their household income would be 77 percent of mean household income. If that same woman married a man with a college education then household income would be 124 percent of the mean.”[/box]

While these combinations were likely selected to maximize income differentials, examining the income differentials of similarly educated households across time provides a more salient comparison. The less-than-high-school/less-than-high-school family in 1960 had an income equal to 77 percent of the mean income. In 2005, this same family had an income equal to only 41 percent of the mean. In 1960, a married couple with both husband and wife having post-college education had an income equal to 176 percent of the mean income. In 2005, the same family had an income of 219 percent. The drastic shift downward for low-education families, and upward for high-education families, are symptoms of the increase in assortative mating.

So what is the causal story?

First, there has been a rapid rise in education levels among married females. The proportion of married women with less than a high school education plummeted from 1960 to 2005, sinking from 43 percent to only 7 percent. Meanwhile, the proportion of married women with college degrees in 2005 was nearly four and a half times higher than in 1960, increasing from 5 percent to 24 percent. The percent of married women with post-college education also increased, from about 1.5 percent to 12 percent.

Secondly, this meteoric rise in education for women has translated into higher labor-force participation and higher earnings. Married women with higher education not only marry men with higher education, but also tend to have higher labor-force participation rates and earn a higher proportion of household income than their less educated counterparts. This can be seen from Figure 4 of the publication:

To quote President Obama from his 2014 State of the Union address, “I believe when women succeed, America succeeds.” I share this belief with the President, though this paper suggests a more accurate statement: “when well-educated women succeed, their well-educated families succeed.”

Assortative mating contributes greatly to income inequality, and the effect is only growing larger. Thankfully, the authors construct a counterfactual – what would income inequality be if marriage were not assortative? What if couples were randomly paired instead? The mathematical models are complex, but their results indicate that if individuals were randomly paired with their spouses, income inequality would decrease substantially.

If the Obama administration truly cares about reducing income inequality, the policy implication of this paper is clear: The creation of a Bureau of Spousal Assignment (BSA) within the Department of Health and Human Services. The Bureau would assign spouses to all citizens wishing to engage in the life-and-benefit-sharing contract known as “marriage.” Federal matchmaking would increase the overall rate of marriage while ensuring that no American is actively promoting income inequality through selfish mating decisions. When calculating matches, The BSA would take into account certain preferences – much like online dating sites – but randomize education levels. This would maximize happiness and relational longevity while minimizing income inequality. This February, the creation of Bureau of Spousal Assignment could fulfill my dual longing: companionship for self, and higher equity for all.

----- Zachary Porter is a first-year in the Batten School’s B.A./M.P.P. program, finishing up a double major in Economics and Music. He has broad policy interests including human trafficking, economics and national security. He previously worked at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, aiding in providing services to low-income individuals in the area.
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Ending the Welfare Cycle

By Lady Lockhart

The 1996 Welfare Reform Law replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF implemented strict work requirements for welfare recipients, and since then, welfare caseloads have decreased by more than 50%. But are smaller caseloads an indicator of success? That depends. If the goal was to simply kick people off public assistance, then welfare reform has been successful. But if the goal is to help recipients and ensure their future success so that they don’t return to welfare, then no – welfare reform has been far from successful.

From 1996 to 2000, the percentage of people “dependent” on welfare declined from 5.2 to 3 percent, according to a 2013 report from the Department of Health and Human Services. The “dependency” rate has since risen back to 4.6 percent, declining briefly only in 2006 and 2007. Millions of people cycle in and out of welfare, and a few common-sense changes could help improve the system. For example, the law should continue to provide supportive services, such as childcare, to recipients even after they have found employment. The current policy quickly renders recipients ineligible for childcare benefits when they find a job, creating a situation in which working mothers, unable to afford a babysitter and cut off from benefits, are forced to quickly exit the workforce. These mothers return to home and to welfare, perpetuating the cycle of dependence.

Future welfare reform solutions need to be two-tiered. First, keep encouraging recipients to accept immediate employment while continuing to invest in their future marketability. Second, job training should be focused on retention and advancement so that recipients will have more sustainable employment. If welfare recipients accept seasonal or temporary employment, they should be coached on managing their finances accordingly, while also searching for full-time jobs.

This leads me to my third point – financial literacy is key. Most welfare recipients are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which comes in a lump-sum payment during income tax season. Many are also unemployed during this time, but could benefit from investing some of those funds for future expenses. Welfare policy needs to begin coaching welfare recipients on managing their finances in both good and bad times.

New policies furthering enhanced supportive services, job retention and advancement training, and financial literacy will help further reduce welfare caseloads, and produce more confident, self-reliant citizens. In an August 22, 2006 NY Times Op-Ed, former President Bill Clinton said the goal of the welfare reform law was “to make welfare a second chance, not a way of life.” Society should be understanding of welfare reliance in a time of need, but we should also support policies that genuinely help fellow citizens achieve long-term self-sufficiency. With TANF up for reauthorization this year, policymakers should consider these solutions to ensure that welfare policy truly is successful, not only at reducing caseloads, but also at ensuring recipients’ long-term sustainability.

----- Lady is a first year Post-Grad Batten student pursuing the MBA/MPP dual degree. Her policy interests include social policy, welfare policy, fiscal policy, and public-private partnerships. She has previously worked in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, both as a Legislative Assistant and as a Research Associate.
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Hiring: Color-Blind Judge, 77002

By Graham Egan Appeals court struggles with racism and the determination of “future dangerousness” in capital punishment sentencing

Nearly 50 years after the demise of Jim Crow laws, administration of justice in the United States is still far from color-blind. In some places, however, color matters more than others. In Texas, African Americans continue to be sentenced to death because of their race. The application of capital punishment in this manner makes a mockery of fundamental principles in the American criminal justice system: fairness and equality before the law.

Duane Buck is the most recent recipient of unequal treatment at the hands of the Texas criminal justice system. In a 6-3 decision handed down on November 20, 2013, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied his appeal for a new sentencing hearing, despite clear evidence that racial bias contributed to his original death sentence. Mr. Buck, an African American in his fifties, was convicted in 1997 of two murders in Harris County, Texas. Although his guilt in these gruesome crimes is undeniable—Mr. Buck does not deny that he committed the murders—the tactics utilized by prosecutors to pursue a death sentence were overtly racist.

The Harris County prosecutors elicited testimony from Walter Quijano, a psychologist, who affirmed that the “race factor, black, increases the future dangerousness for various complicated reasons.” Because a finding of “future dangerousness” is a prerequisite for a death sentence in Texas, the prosecutor relied on Dr. Quijano’s testimony to convince the jury to sentence Mr. Buck to die.

Although the prosecutorial linkage of race and risk in Mr. Buck’s sentencing represented a clear miscarriage of justice, it was not the only time Texas prosecutors explicitly invoked race as a rationale for capital punishment. Dr. Quijano alone affirmed the link between race and “future dangerousness” in testimonies during the sentencing phase of five additional trials throughout the late 1990s. All six men were sentenced to death. All were subsequently given new sentencing hearings free of racial discrimination—all, except Mr. Buck. Former Texas Governor Mark White and former Attorney General (and current U.S. Senator) John Cornyn, along with more than 100 civil rights leaders, elected officials, former prosecutors and faith leaders, had all called for a new sentencing trial.

Research on the relationship between race and the death penalty demonstrates that Texas prosecutors and juries have historically applied the punishment unequally based on race. Ray Paternoster, of the University of Maryland, with the assistance of Scott Phillips, of the University of Denver, examined over 500 death penalty cases from Harris County, where Duane Buck was prosecuted for his crimes. They found that district prosecutors were three times more likely to seek the death penalty for African American defendants as for white defendants, and that Harris Country juries were twice as likely to impose death sentences on African Americans as on white Americans.

With their decision, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals missed a significant opportunity to restore integrity to their state’s criminal justice system. Instead, the court implicitly upheld the state’s practice of allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty based on race. Texas’ failure to ensure that justice is applied equally to all of its citizens is indefensible and severely undermines the credibility of its criminal justice system.

To rectify this dangerous decision, Governor Perry should commute Mr. Buck’s sentence to life without parole and the Texas legislature should enact legislation that (1) forbids references to the association between race and future dangerousness in the sentencing phase and (2) provides an appeals process in which judges examine the role of race in the sentencing phase for any future capital punishment trials. North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act would be a suitable model. These actions would bring Texas one step closer to realizing color-blind justice.

-------------------- Graham is a first-year Master of Public Policy candidate in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. He is from New York City, and his policy interests include education and criminal law. He is also an associate editor at the Virginia Policy Review.
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MARTA Offers Equality a Seat on the Bus

By Sarah Collier  

Atlanta’s primary public transportation system, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), has recently released plans to expand their railway transit lines to the North Fulton in the Georgia 400 corridor, an area with a growing job market. While this expansion provides those north of Atlanta easier access to a Jamba Juice, it also represents a significant first step towards decreasing the racial inequality perpetuated by MARTA’s current railway transit routes.

[caption id="attachment_1376" align="alignright" width="176"] Current MARTA Transit Routes[/caption]

Having worked for two summers in Atlanta, my most prominent memory was the long commute between the white suburbs north of Atlanta, where jobs are plentiful, to its impoverished black neighborhoods downtown. I would have used public transportation, however the MARTA suspiciously ends right before white suburbia begins.

MARTA’s transit route design is sorely lacking. With its simple cross-shaped track, it has a local reputation as only being useful for getting to either a Brave’s baseball game or the airport. My long drives to work gave me ample time to wonder if it was simply unskilled urban planning or some other factor that had caused MARTA’s limited route design. As it turns out, MARTA’s history reveals racial discrimination as a key player in this debacle.

MARTA began building its railway transit system between the 1970s and 1990s. During this time period, counties took strong stances in the determination of MARTA’s expansion. Richer, suburban counties north of Atlanta fervently opposed the extension of the MARTA railway to their area. In 1987, MARTA board member Charles Loudermilk stated:

[box] “Many of the people I talk with in [suburban] counties say ‘we just don’t want blacks’ – whom they equate with crime. I went to a public forum in Gwinnett County recently and the people who got up to oppose MARTA all mentioned what MARTA would bring to the county. Two of them said they moved from Atlanta to get away from what they call ‘the undesirables.’”[/box]

MARTA chairman J. David Chestnut echoed Loudermilk, stating: “The development of a regional transit system in the Atlanta area is being held hostage to race.” The influence of racial discrimination on MARTA was highlighted in a Brookings Institute Center study in 2000, which noted that race issues have prevented MARTA’s transit lines from expanding to richer counties. The lack of transportation infrastructure in these counties has prevented minorities in the city from accessing areas with high job growth including Gwinnett, Cobb, and Clayton County. MARTA has not had any transit route development since 2000.

Conventional knowledge holds that racial segregation in transportation ended soon after 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to move out of her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. But as of 2013, MARTA’s railway route design still prevents blacks from accessing employment opportunities in richer, predominantly white counties.

[caption id="attachment_1377" align="alignright" width="155"] North Fulton County[/caption]

MARTA’s new plan to expand their transit lines to reach North Fulton County is the first step towards ending racial discrimination in Atlanta’s railway transit system. The transit route will also provide greater access to Cobb, Gwinnett, and Forsyth County, one of Forbes’ 2013 top 10 Fastest Growing Counties in America.

Hopefully the trend of northward expansion will continue, moving MARTA transit lines closer toward Forsyth, Cobb, and Gwinnett County. These expansions would finally alter the racially motivated design that would prevent the Rosa Parks of today from catching a ride.

-------------------- Sarah is a public policy major from Prattville, Alabama. Her policy interests include sustainable development and social welfare. She spent the last two summers working with a non-profit organization to lead student service trips to downtown Atlanta.
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Off the Rails: Why Obama Needs to Make Transportation Reform a Priority

By Tony Lucadomo

America’s transportation infrastructure is in a state of disrepair, and existing policy is unable to meet the nation’s current and future needs. The shortcomings of our transportation infrastructure are well known. The state of the nation’s roads, bridges, ports, and railways is unacceptable. Social and economic costs abound. Only with strong presidential leadership can we tackle this issue and move forward.

Earlier this year, the Miller Center at the University of Virginia organized the David R. Goode Conference on Transportation Policy to tackle the problem. The event brought together leaders from across the policy community to devise a strategic framework that fosters progress. The result is a series of recommendations aimed at getting us back on track.

First, transportation funding should be immune to economic cycles. Infrastructure spending is often seen as superfluous in a time of fiscal constraint, but that narrative is disingenuous. Without continuous investment, our economy suffers and likelihood of ever getting away from times of fiscal constraint diminishes. Thus, it is precisely in these times of downturn that such outlays must be made.

Second, a public relations effort is warranted. President George H.W. Bush famously said that he had three main domestic priorities: “jobs, jobs, jobs.” The message resonated, support expanded, and as part of a broader initiative the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) soon followed. With the right public relations, the White House enacted transformative reform. A similar re-branding is called for today.

Third, we must reassess where and how we spend. A number of new funding mechanisms could be explored. Rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach, we could impose taxes based on vehicle weight. The heaviest vehicles do the most damage to roads. Thus, their operators should contribute proportionally. Technology affords similar opportunities to modernize. Instead of simply taxing the purchase of fuel, we could assess fees for vehicle miles travelled (VMT). This way, the money that goes into roads comes most directly from the people using them. Sensory technology gives us the ability to charge more during peak congestion hours. Traffic would decrease, average commutes would shorten, and economic productivity would go up, as people would spend less time sitting idle.

Fourth, non-governmental entities should be engaged. The private sector offers much-needed financing in a time of rising deficits. By embracing public-private partnerships, governments can fund and operate much-needed projects even at a time when the coffers have run dry. The infusion of private sector know-how can also increase efficiency and cut costs. An excellent example is the I-495 hot lanes spanning 14 miles of the D.C. beltway, which was subcontracted in part to Fluor-Transurban. In addition to reduced traffic congestion, construction eliminated 50 aging bridges and overpasses and upgraded ten interchanges.

With money and support secured, leaders should begin by addressing policies that are the lowest hanging fruit. One such proposal is to remove air traffic administration from the FAA’s purview. The U.S. is the only developed country where its aviation oversight authority has that responsibility. The inherent weakness in that structure was exposed in April 2013 when employee furloughs led to widespread delays.

A national freight plan also enjoys bipartisan support. America loses jobs when companies relocate to countries with stronger supply chains. We have to change the lagging status quo of our disjointed and disruptive system to ensure that we remain competitive.

These issues have the support of Democrats and Republicans, and it is important to address them both. But in the end, piecemeal solutions are just that. Ultimately, we need to enact policy broad enough in scope to match the size of the problem. And that cannot happen without strong, consistent stewardship from the White House.

To that end, President Obama has spoken publicly about wide-ranging aspirations. In his 2013 State of the Union Address, he took the rare step of highlighting a range of infrastructure needs. In 2014, he followed up by once again referencing our roads, ports, and widespread commute issues. In fact, he took the extra step of mentioning the use of executive orders to cut through the “red tape” holding up “key projects.”

While his focus on the issue is laudable, meaningful, sustainable change will require more than words and executive orders. A major legislative agenda must follow. Some have blamed his failure to that end on an increasingly polarized Congress. Yet, the great transportation presidents of the last century all faced adversity. The notion of a bygone golden age is a myth; transportation has rarely evaded the sphere of politics.

President H.W. Bush faced fierce opposition from public transit interests and the states in passing ISTEA. Likewise, President Johnson’s creation of the Department of Transportation did not go smoothly. He wanted the power to appoint the chair of the ICC, and Congress said no. In his own words: “in a few respects, this bill falls short of our original hopes.” As a former Senator, Johnson understood when to compromise, and in time the agency came to fruition.

President Eisenhower’s passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 was perhaps the largest uphill battle of all. In hindsight, one assumes that plans for a national highway system would have enjoyed unanimous support. Not so. In fact, the seeds of Eisenhower’s bill went as far back as the Roosevelt (FDR) administration. The idea had lingered for decades. Eisenhower’s success was a triumph of compromise and presidential persistence.

That brings us to today. Administrations that place less emphasis on transportation coincide with times of inertia or even regression. We cannot afford that outcome at this critical moment in our history. President Obama needs to make this a personal priority and give it sustained attention. He must insert himself wherever possible by engaging congressional leaders and elevating the conversation in a way that draws in the American people.

In short, President Obama has to roll up his sleeves and answer the call head on. The nation requires bold leadership now more than ever.

-------------------- Tony Lucadomo is a second year graduate student at the Frank Batten School, and a Graduate Researcher at the Miller Center of Public Affairs. He previously worked as a presidential campaign staffer and as a National Defense Fellow in the office of U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).
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NJC Is a Success

The Virginia Policy Review hosted yet another successful National Journal Conference this year, marking the one-year anniversary since the first conference. Attendance doubled from last year, as schools from across the nation met at the Batten School to tackle this year’s theme – Policy with a Purpose: Making your Journal Count.

On kick-off night, staff from publications at Cornell, Duke, University of Chicago, Georgetown University of Minnesota, Mills College, Pepperdine, and William & Mary gathered in the Dome Room of the Rotunda for opening remarks from Batten’s Dean Harry Harding. After dinner, Paul Kane, a congressional reporter for the Washington Post, shared his thoughts on how to write for a broad audience.

The second day of the conference featured William Antholis from the Brookings Institution speaking on defining the purpose of policy journals. The day also included Batten alum Annie Rorem from the Weldon Cooper Center showing how to incorporate and visualize data in a policy journal, and Sean Lowry from the Congressional Research Service, discussing how to make policy relevant and navigate the policy world in Washington. Georgetown, the University of Chicago, and VPR’s Co-Editor in Chief, Benjamin Lynch led workshops on best journal practices throughout the day.

The schools gathered on the last day of the conference to discuss creating a National Journal Consortium – a forum for discussion for journals of public policy. It was decided that the Consortium would be created with a joint-effort among staff leaders from a variety of journals. The last event featured an Editor in Chief Panel, during which schools shared experiences in overcoming modern day challenges of academic journals and how they continue to push for journal growth in an age of digital media.

The National Journal Conference received positive reviews from all attendees, and attendees hinted at being eager to see what the Virginia Policy Review will have in store for next year’s NJC.

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Welcome to The Third Rail

From the desk of The Virginia Policy Review:

It is with great pleasure that VPR announces the launch of our new blog, entitled The Third Rail. Coined after high-voltage electrical conductors exposed along railways, the phrase ‘third rail’ has long been employed to describe politically charged and complex policy issues. In this spirit, The Third Rail seeks to inform and to contribute to the contentious yet critically important discourse on public policy at the local, state, federal, and international levels. Consistent with VPR’s mission, our blog will provide a forum through which students, practitioners, academics, and policymakers can impact the wider policy debate.

The Third Rail will feature advocacy and opinion work, as well as quick-take analysis on current events, policy changes, and recent research. Our content will strive for a timely perspective and solutions-oriented approach. Articles will be updated on a rolling basis, providing dexterity that only the blog platform can allow. Our biannual print journal will retain its emphasis on original research and long-form policy work.

Contributing to the policy discussion means bringing innovative strategies and solutions to the table. Content published at The Third Rail does not represent any official, editorial viewpoints of the Virginia Policy Review board, or any member of our editorial staff. Rather, we hope our initiative will provide an effective platform for substantive policy discussion amongst contributors and readers, both at the University of Virginia and within the broader policy community. In this spirit, we welcome your submissions to The Third Rail at

From the staff of The Virginia Policy Review, we hope that you enjoy the exclusively online publication The Third Rail and find it engaging, informative, and insightful.


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