Steven Kelman

Recent Articles

The Pork Barrel Objection

It’s a problem, but there are ways to minimize it.

C ritics of public investment often suggest that, however strong the case for such outlays might be in theory, the realities of American politics make the proposals a bad idea in practice. In particular, critics argue, efforts by members of Congress to obtain "pork barrel" benefits are likely to destroy any chance that public investment programs can be effective. Pork barrel worries are of two sorts. One is about location. Rather than being guided by a sober evaluation of where projects should best located or who can best undertake them, decisions will reflect the demands of powerful members of the congressional committees authorizing the projects or of legislators whose support was obtained by making promises about the project's location. A second fear is that once a project has gotten started and jobs are at stake, it will be difficult to shut down a white elephant investment. T he pork barrel objection is an application of what economists call the "theory of government failure."...

The Renewal of the Public Sector

The preoccupation with scandal has only aggravated the bureaucratic character of public services. A new "paradigm" for public service needs to emphasize quality of service, flexibility, and receptiveness to innovation--not just probity.

The Renewal of the Public Sector by Steven Kelman Liberals, the political commentator William Schneider once remarked, joke about the telephone company, while conservatives joke about the post office. Conservatives must be getting more laughs these days. Americans appear to believe that giving any job to government dooms it to being poorly performed. Yet, paradoxically, you risk a polite yawn if you say to someone that improving the operating performance of public agencies ought to be a priority. When Michael Dukakis talked about governmental competence, journalists and commentators smelled "technocracy." Voters were indifferent. Who's ahead in the latest horse race always seems far more exciting than mere matters of administration. How we run public services, however, should not interest only the few of us who are enamored of spreadsheets or green eyeshades. Everyday services shape the citizen's image of government. Government, for many, is what happened the last time they renewed a...