Mismanaging America

The Rise of the Anti-Analytic Presidency

Walter Williams

An American president must be master of two arts: politics and management. Without political mastery, he can't get elected, let alone construct the power base he'll need to govern. But without managerial expertise, his policy making will be unintelligent and ineffective.

Managerial mastery has been missing from the administrations of all post-World War II presidents, according to Walter Williams. Spurred by popular anti-bureaucratic sentiment and promises to trim the fat from the federal government, presidents from Eisenhower to Carter have decimated the ranks of top-level bureaucrats, leaving the Executive Office of the President alarmingly short of competent policy advice.

“What is unique to Williams’s analysis is that he brings together examples of mismanagement during the Reagan years and connects that administration’s failures to a larger pattern—the increasing tendency of recent presidents to be either ‘anti-government’ or ‘anti-bureaucracy’ and thus insufficiently attentive to the organizational and analytical dimensions of policy-making.”

American Review of Public Administration

“This is an incisive original analysis of an important issue.”

—Fred I. Greenstein, author of Evolution of the Modern Presidency

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Reagan took the process a step further. He was, according to Williams, the first explicitly anti-analytic president. "Ronald Reagan launched an eight-year war on policy information and analysis," Williams writes. "He won. His distaste for expert policy information, analysis, and advice led to the destruction of much of the institutional analytic capacity built up in the Executive Branch."

Poor policies and inept governance are the direct result of cutbacks in expert policy information and analytic capacity, Williams contends. He traces the decline of policy analysis since Eisenhower, but focuses his most devastating analysis on Reagan, who cut experts from the agencies, relied on a few hand-picked, mainly political advisers, and held all policy analysis to an ideological standard.

The results of the fifty-year trend, according to Williams, are massive budget and trade deficits, public sector underinvestment in physical and human capital that threatens America's superpower status, and a widening gap between rich and poor that is tearing apart the nation's social fabric. Still, the situation is not hopeless. Williams prescribes a series of measures to correct America's course, arguing that government is not just the problem, it's the solution.

About the Author

Walter Williams is professor in the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington. He has been Chief of the Research and Plans Division of the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity and has been a visiting scholar at both the London School of Economics and the University of Bergen. Among his most important books are Social Policy Research and Analysis and Washington, Westminster and Whitehall, Evaluating Social Programs, and Government by Agency.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series