Congratulations on your election! Can you tell us a little bit more about your journey into the policy world and to your current position as Dean at NYU.
I was very fortunate early in my career to have the opportunity to serve as a Senior Economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, on leave from a faculty position at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. While I was there, President Clinton was elected, and I had a ringside seat during the first six months of the Administration’s efforts in both health reform and (to a lesser degree) welfare reform. I met many brilliant people, both career government staff and political appointees, and I learned a lot about the policy development process. When I returned to New York, I wrote a book about health reform (an unusual career move for an economist) and began to focus my research on the problems of the uninsured and on mental health policy.
Fifteen years later, President Obama nominated me to be Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE). In this role, I had the extraordinary experience of working on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, as well as the many other issues that HHS—and the ASPE office—addresses. Being ASPE reinforced my belief that excellent policy analysis and policy management are absolutely critical to the success of government actions. After I left, I looked for a role where I could lead an organization, help educate the next generation of policy analysts and managers, work with a faculty who conduct cutting-edge policy research, and live in the greatest city in the world. That’s exactly what being Dean at NYU Wagner entails.
As President-Elect, your main responsibility is the Fall Conference. Tell us a little bit more about the theme for this year, Research across the Policy Lifecycle – Formulation, Implementation, Evaluation, and Back Again.
My goal in setting the theme of the conference was to emphasize that policy research doesn’t—and shouldn’t—be thought of as the last step in the policy process. We sometimes think of the policy process as linear: it begins with policy development and formulation governed by stakeholders and interest groups, which leads to legislation; then there’s policy implementation through regulations and the activities of the bureaucracy; and finally, there’s research evaluating and analyzing the effects of the policy. There are two problems with that linear story. First, most policy issues are revisited over and over again, at the legislative level and the implementation level. The policy process is more of a circle than a line. Second, as I learned at ASPE, research has value throughout the process—in describing problems and forecasting how various policy responses would likely address them; in studying what institutional, contextual, programmatic, policy, and other factors facilitate or impede effective implementation; in understanding whether and how a policy worked, and how it worked differently for different groups; and then in suggesting how alternative strategies would ameliorate the problems that remain.
Where do you feel APPAM has the most room to grow for the next few years as you assume an important leadership role with the organization?
I’d like to see and help APPAM build on its ongoing efforts to incorporate a greater diversity of people, views, and experiences. Consistent with my theme choice, I’d like to see more research at APPAM on the implementation stage of the policy lifecycle. I’m also interested in how we might strengthen our ties to policy researchers in state and local governments.
As Dean you have a unique vantage point, so could you share with us your perspective on how public policy education has changed, and where you see the field, broadly, going?
Public policy education has changed and continues to evolve because both the context and content of public policy changes and the tools available to researchers and educators change. Most recently, I think, we’ve seen changes across each of these three dimensions. First, there is a growing emphasis on recognizing the diversity of our students’ experiences and the heterogeneity of the communities we serve. We no longer segregate problems of discrimination and bias into topical, specialized courses—these problems are fundamental to all public policy. We can’t gloss over growing partisanship and polarization in our classes; our students need to understand how to confront those problems in the work they do. Second, there’s growing student interest in learning about research on the environment, criminal justice, and housing—as those issues have risen to the top of the policy agenda. Third, our students need to learn how to understand and use “big data” and methods like machine learning that use big data. Our traditional approach of developing hypotheses based on a theoretical model and then finding or collecting data to test those hypotheses is giving away to approaches that begin with the data. We need to teach our students how to think about data in a way that facilitates continuous learning— across the entire policy lifecycle!