Failure to Govern Post Covid-19

From the WashPost, this highly critical article: Trump and the GOP have a plan for governing during a pandemic: Just don’t. Public officials are trying to escape responsibility for public health.

That’s because for Trump, nothing that goes wrong is ever his fault. In fact, nothing that can go wrong is even his job. This is partly a function of the president’s personal rejection of even minimal accountability, but it’s also rooted in a long-standing principle among Republicans that government solutions should be last resorts and the business of governing should be outsourced to actual businesses. Trump’s refusal to govern during the pandemic isn’t just ineptitude; it’s ideology, and he’s not the only one who embraces it.

Comparing Business Management vs. Public Management

The new Trump administration features many key officials who are fresh from corporate life; most have no government experience.  As a person concerned with governance, I can only wonder if running government like a big business will be an improvement over the present system. I highly recommend this article.

From the NY Times, see: For Trump’s Nominees, a Billionaires’ Guide to Running the Government

Indepth Look at Federal Government Failures

We all lament the state of affairs in Washington these days, but here is an interesting analysis of the problems. From the WashPost: Government ‘breakdowns’ thwart turning policy into action.  And here is a direct link to the report. An excerpt from the 46-page report:

Mr. Volcker proclaimed that “a gap between vision and action undermines the government’s ability to execute.” Research by Professor Light released at the event by the Volcker Alliance demonstrates that the number of federal government agency breakdowns has steadily increased over the past 30 years. He predicts that, at the current rate, the federal government under President Obama will set a record for the number of breakdowns in a two-term presidency.

Book Review: Governance for Urban Sustainability and Resilience

Author: Jeroen van der Heijden
Title: Governance for Urban Sustainability and Resilience;
Responding to Climate Change and the Relevance of the Built Environment

Publisher: Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK Northampton MA USA
Oct 2014.  ISBN: 9781782548126 eISBN: 9781782548133; Pages: 256; on-line price $102 USD. Note: Free preview of Ch. 1, references, and index from the URL noted above. 

Key words: environmental governance, sustainability, resilience, climate risk, natural hazard, disaster risk reduction, building regulation.

Reviewer: Donald Watson is an architect and planner, author of Design for Flooding: Resilience to Climate Change (Wiley 2011) and Editor-in-Chief, Time-Saver Standards for Urban Design (McGraw-Hill 2003).

This new book makes an important contribution to policy and programs for building sector energy efficiency, sustainability and resilience to natural hazards. It an essential reference for planners and policy makers engaged in programs to achieve sustainability and resilience in buildings and infrastructure. It is clearly written, with conclusions supported by case examples and references. Mr. Jeroen van der Heijden deserves praise for a very careful assessment of what has worked and not worked to improve building sustainability (energy and resource efficiency) and to increase resiliency (disaster risk reduction).

The book’s great contribution is its reasoned presentation of evidence on which to base recommendations for public and private policies, programs and projects.

The title states the theme of the book–Governance for Urban Sustainability and Resilience—roles and responsibilities for performance of buildings within existing regulations and innovative practices—as a critical variable, along with technological improvements and behavioral change, intended to change how buildings are built and used.

The focus of the book as stated in the preface is to answer the question, “What governance approaches and tools may help to improve the resource sustainability of our buildings and cities, may help to reduce their negative impacts on the natural environment and may make them more resilient to man-made and natural hazards?”

Its opening chapters address three approaches to governance: direct regulatory interventions (Ch. 2): traditional tools governments have been applying for a long time: direct regulation, subsidies, and other market interventions, with novel applications; (2) Collaborative governance (Ch. 3): how governments, businesses and civil society groups are working together: networks, covenants and negotiated agreements; and (3) voluntary programs and market-driven governance (Ch. 4): new governance tools.

The argument is supported by the author’s knowledge of the building industry across different economic and international sectors. He addresses three “governance” problems that characterize the building sector’s rate of innovation, which vary per economy: (1) Grandfathering: exempting existing buildings and infrastructure from new or amended regulation; (2) Regulating a Building Boom in Developing Economies: rapid urban expansion where regulation is not well established in developing countries, thus requiring different governance tools than regulatory interventions of governments; and (3)  “Wicked set” of Market Barriers, common barriers to innovation, existing legislation and codes, cost, fragmentation, complexity of sectors and decision points, uniqueness of every building project.

The author’s discussion of “Collaborative Governance” is timely for disaster mitigation and climate adaptation planning in the Unites States. The U.S. DHS/FEMA philosophy of “whole community”—to involve community stakeholders in setting priorities for disaster risk reduction, such as FEMA Natural Hazard Mitigation Planning—has challenges to engage citizen participation in decision making, where negotiated agreements and covenants, partnerships and networks are among measurable program outcomes. Limitations of collaborative governance are reviewed: challenges of giving all stakeholders a voice, ambiguity of roles and responsibilities, and whether simply involving any representative stakeholder group is sufficient to achieve outcomes and results.

Early models of collaborative governance are cited—e.g., ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Leadership) and Clinton Foundation C40 Cities: built around outreach, education and learning; with clear goals for easy access and participation; well publicized and visible networking; and programs where chief elected officials (e.g., city mayors) play a significant role in support, if not outright leadership.

Findings are put forward carefully, letting the evidence speak for itself:

  • Voluntary programs [to undertake sustainability goals] do not surpass other [non-voluntary] approaches and do not outperform non-participants [those not in the program]. [117]
  • Even under slow urban development rates as in developed economies, the impact of leading voluntary programs and market-driven governance tools is limited. [118]
  • Investment benefits for retrofits for urban sustainability are clearly represented on utilities bill, but not so the investments in retrofits for increased resilience. These investments will only “pay back themselves” when and if a disaster strikes. [120]

These are only some of the findings that this reviewer would consider particularly helpful to current policy and program formation in the U.S. and beyond, with the extant need to design for natural hazard protection and risk reduction worldwide.

The author offers principles for urban sustainability and resilience design, some obvious but worth repeating, all supported by the author’s research: [138]

  • Make enforcement and compliance an integral part of governance tools.
  • Individual governance tools have little impact; however, they can mutually reinforce one another in smart government mixes.
  • Different groups and individuals respond differently to similar governance tools, (applicable to both commercial and residential buildings).
  • While taking the high moral ground on urban sustainability and resilience is laudable, for most parties in the building sector it is (also) about the money.

The concluding chapter of the book advocates for increased due diligence in building regulation of building stock to achieve sustainability and resiliency goals. This will not attract advocates of “less regulation,” where regulation is cited as an impediment to construction cost and time budgets, much less to innovation. The author acknowledges that high performing buildings are being built under incentive programs such as LEED and other voluntary programs (which he recommends as part of the mix), but also documents the statement that,
When looking outward from within these small pockets of good practice, it appears that a lot of activity is going on. Yet, when looking into these pockets from the larger problems faced, it appears that the activity is a very small part of the building sector. [154]

Among the answers is to improve the process by which buildings are certified to be energy efficient, safe and protected to higher standards of sustainability and resilience. Buildings and cities are after all our inheritance of the past and our legacy for the future. The author’s concluding example is the City of Toronto certified professional (CP) Municipal Enforcement Officer program, wherein qualified architects and engineers certify buildings for City permits, and the building property owners meet standards established both by the City and by the building insurors (as basis of insurance rating).

Although not mentioned by the author, similar public health and safety protections have for decades been represented in fire construction and insurance standards in the U.S, now so common as to be taken for granted.

The author concludes, that “It is essential for government, business and civil society to take up new governing roles” in approval, construction and maintenance of buildings and urban infrastructure. The case for sustainability has been developed for decades. The case for resiliency is new, but can and must benefit from findings set forth here. For this reason alone, this book is essential reference.

FEMA and H. Sandy- updates

Nov. 1, USNews&World Report. FEMA Can Deal With Disasters in a Way States Can’t. [Author is with Brookings.]

Kathleen Tierney’s comments on the NY Time blog re Do We Really Need FEMA?
October 31. Her concluding sentence:

The bottom line is that the U.S. currently has an emergency management system that is second to none in the world. It is by no means perfect, and it needs to continually evolve in response to new threats and disaster experiences. But it is clearly not in need of a radical overhaul.

[Tierney is the Director of the Hazards Center, Univ. of CO/Boulder]

Sandy Shows Why We Need FEMA; Oct. 31.

An excerpt:I hope the storm is a good reminder that when we hear candidates’ soothing words about shedding federal government functions, whether it’s FEMA, Medicaid, or safety nets in recession, we must think about what that actually means in practice. Disasters happen, recessions happen — like it or not, there are market failures and natural disasters in our future. If anything, it seems as though these 100-year storms come about every six months these days. (Which reminds me — here’s a great idea for a big, national infrastructure project that will create millions of jobs for white- and blue-collar workers and save billions in lost output: Bury the power lines!)

At the end of the day, we don’t need “big” government or “small” government. What we need is an amply funded federal government to meet challenges like those we’re facing today, ….

How to Tell if FEMA is Doing a Good Job or a Lousy One; the New Republic, Oct. 31

Superstorm Sandy has pushed on northward, leaving some of the most densely populated areas of the country a mess in its wake.  Now, rescue agencies will get in full gear—none moreso than the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). What can the storm’s victims expect from FEMA? And how can we evaluate whether the agency, which so famously bungled its response to Hurricane Katrina, is doing a competent job? To answer these questions, I called on Mark Merritt, a FEMA official under Clinton who spent years coordinating its disaster relief efforts with state and local governments, and who is now the president of a crisis management consulting firm. Merritt and I spoke by phone just after his plane touched down in D.C.—“a ghost town”—on what to watch for as FEMA’s efforts get underway.

The Conservative View:  See the article titled: How a Smart Conservative Would Reform FEMA, by Matt Mayer of the Heritiage Foundation, as interviewed in the Atlantic , October 31. In my view, he is the best informed conservative commentator. [I just took issue with a writer in Forbes online.]

Governance and Disaster Management – an update

I remain intrigued with governance matters with regard to recovery.  Today I ran across a short (7 page) cogent paper on that topic, issued by the UN’s Knowledge for Recovery Series; the title is Why Governance Issues Are  Important in Recovery?  I recommend the Series site as well as the short paper.

A week or so ago, I provided a link to three interesting papers from the  Australia and New Zealand School of Government, which is supported by several universities, government agencies, and other organizations. I especially liked the paper titled “Governing the Recovery from the Canterbury Earthquake 2010-2011: the debate over Institutional Design” by Rachel Brookie.

I would like to see more research done on governance regarding the U.S. and Canadian systems. I am especially interested in any analyses of the Canadian EM governance system; any suggestions from readers would be appreciated.

Note to graduate students: this topic is wide open for original research!