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January 04, 2022

Hannah Story Brown

Blog Post

Anti-MonopolyExecutive BranchGovernment CapacityIndependent AgenciesTrade Policy

Amidst a Record Supply Chain Crisis, What is the Federal Maritime Commission’s Capacity?

One tiny federal agency with 116 full-time employees and a $28.9 million dollar budget is in charge of regulating the global marine economy, which contributes $397 billion to the US GDP annually and accounts for 80 percent of goods shipped worldwide. That’s not just an apples and oranges discrepancy—that’s like an apple versus Apple. The budget for the military’s marching bands is fifteen times greater than the Federal Maritime Commission’s budget; the Marines alone have five times more musicians than the Commission has staff.

December 03, 2021

Toni Aguilar Rosenthal

Blog Post

Ethics in GovernmentGovernment CapacityRevolving Door

Active Revolving Door Between Government and Contracting Industry Could Threaten Reform

Officially speaking, the federal government employs just shy of 3.6 million people (2.2 in the civilian workforce and 1.4 in the military). In reality, however, the number of people whose paychecks originate with the federal government (through grants or service contracts) is much larger — around 12 million according to recent estimates. This workforce, and the contracts that sustain it, rarely get much attention in public discourse. Yet, the federal government’s power to set standards and direct funds through contracting is not an insignificant one. President Biden has begun to tap into those powers with directives to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour for federal contractors and institute a vaccine mandate for those same workers. These are strong first steps but they only scratch the surface of what is possible and what is needed to address the many problems that plague federal contracting. Fully harnessing that power, however, will likely require confronting a deep-seated problem: an active revolving door between the offices charged with granting and monitoring federal contracts and the companies that receive them. 

December 02, 2021

Toni Aguilar Rosenthal

Blog Post

ClimateFinancial RegulationGovernment CapacityIndependent Agencies

Climate Finance Capacity Project: Commodity Futures Trading Commission

The Biden Administration was elected to office with an urgent mandate to change our current trajectory towards catastrophic climate change. Climate-focused financial regulation, or the regulation of markets to accurately account for climate risk and the social and material costs of climate-damaging activities, must be a part of this coordinated federal response in order to meaningfully address climate concerns at the governmental level. An agency that is particularly key to this goal is the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The CFTC is one of the smallest federal financial regulatory bodies and yet it is responsible for regulating one of the country’s largest markets, derivatives. While it was originally founded to regulate futures trading in commodities, the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010 expanded the CFTC’s mandate to include swaps markets and broadened the agency’s role in regulating other derivatives, in part due to their extreme volatility and outsized role in the 2008 financial crisis. 

November 05, 2021 | The American Prospect

Eleanor Eagan Fatou Ndiaye

Op-Ed

ClimateGovernment Capacity

A Missing Link in the Fight Against the Climate Crisis

With his legislative climate agenda hanging in the balance, President Biden turned to executive action this week in his attempt to “assert American leadership” at COP26 in Glasgow. On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced sweeping new rules to curb methane emissions. Those standards, which the agency estimates would eliminate a greater volume of emissions between 2023 and 2035 than those emitted from all U.S. passenger cars and commercial planes in 2019, were rightly applauded. For now, however, these are just estimates. Ensuring that they turn into real-life emissions reductions that meet or exceed expectations will require that agencies have the capacity to promptly write strong new rules and, then, enforce them.

November 02, 2021

Eleanor Eagan Fatou Ndiaye

Report

ClimateGovernment Capacity

Climate Capacity Crisis: Attrition at Climate Agencies and Immediate Steps to Address It

It has been over nine months since President Donald Trump left office, but on climate policy the federal government continues to show the scars from his disastrous presidency. At a moment when we do not have even a second to waste to avoid catastrophic climate change, agencies are struggling to build back better after attacks on scientific integrity and agency budgets left them without sufficient staff capacity and expertise. While the Biden administration has consistently affirmed its support for the federal workforce through rhetoric and action, New York Times reporting from this summer makes clear that the rebuilding is still not happening fast enough. 

October 18, 2021 | The Hill

Eleanor Eagan Jeff Hauser

FOIA Request

Executive BranchGovernment Capacity

The Senate confirmation process is broken — Senate Democrats can fix it

Biden’s agenda are falling victim to arcane Senate rules, and not just the filibuster. Dysfunction is slowing the Senate confirmation process to a crawl too, producing a backlog hundreds of nominees deep. For as long as these delays keep permanent officials out of their intended roles, they will limit the scope and ambition of the Biden administration’s agenda. Senate Democrats must act to change them. 

August 18, 2021

Eleanor Eagan

Newsletter

ClimateDepartment of JusticeGovernment CapacityIndependent AgenciesUSPS

Who’s Afraid of Brett Kavanaugh’s Scorn?

The U.S. Court of Appeals is set to rule on the Biden Administration’s eviction moratorium sometime this week. No matter how it decides, however, it is already clear that those who argued against a new moratorium were wrong. A Trump judge has acknowledged that she must, begrudgingly, sustain it for now. By fighting, rather than preemptively surrendering, the administration has ensured that millions of Americans can stay in their homes for weeks longer. That is undoubtedly worth any embarrassment that government lawyers may feel from potentially eventually losing a case.   

June 29, 2021 | Talking Points Memo

Eleanor Eagan

Op-Ed

Government Capacity

Biden’s New OPM Director May Be Among His Most Critical Appointees. Here’s Why.

It seems safe to assume that most people stopped paying attention to confirmation votes sometime around late spring (if not well before). And even those few who are still tuned in would be forgiven for missing the confirmation vote that directly preceded last week’s Senate showdown over the For the People Act. Despite its low-profile, however, that position — to lead the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) — may be among the most critical to the success of the Biden administration’s agenda.

June 01, 2021

Henry Burke

Blog Post

Government CapacityIRS

How Revitalizing the IRS Can Help Save Democracy

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is tasked with ensuring Americans follow tax laws. The IRS not only audits everyday Americans and foreign nationals with US tax liabilities but also maintains the power to investigate wealthy individuals and corporations for tax avoidance or other forms of malfeasance. Despite its crucial role in enforcing federal taxes laws (or, more aptly, because of this role), Republican austerity has systematically dismantled the IRS over the past decade.

May 28, 2021

Andrea Beaty Henry Burke

Blog Post

Anti-MonopolyFTCGovernment Capacity

Hobbled FTC Lacks Budget To Combat Corporate Buying Spree

Progressives have been encouraged by President Biden’s choices of anti-monopoly leadership in Lina Khan, Tim Wu, and (potentially) Jonathan Kanter. But in the interregnum between personnel announcements and actual confirmations, corporations are getting as many transactions done now as possible. And while the Biden Administration seems on the precipice of reining in the power of Big Tech and other monopolists soon, the FTC, one of the two agencies charged with enforcing antitrust law, continues to be hobbled by chronic underfunding.

May 13, 2021

Henry Burke

Blog Post

2020 Election/TransitionGovernment CapacityIndependent Agencies

100 Days in Office and Biden is Outpacing Obama

Presidents are only as effective as the administrations they assemble. FDR’s “brain trust,” for example, drove his effective first term. As President Biden seeks to surpass his predecessors’ accomplishments and become the most effective president of the past 60 years, the staff with whom he surrounds himself are essential. For over a thousand members of his team, Senate confirmation stands between them and the critical task ahead, making it crucial that Biden quickly make nominations to get these senior leaders working towards his vision as soon as possible. As the traditional post-New Deal metric of how a young administration is performing, the 100th day in office is a chance to look back on the Biden administration’s progress thus far and compare it to the Obama administration.

May 07, 2021

Henry Burke

Blog Post

Criminal JusticeDepartment of JusticeGovernment Capacity

The DOJ's Civil Rights Division is Perilously Unstaffed, Slowing Biden Goals on Police Oversight and Reform

Throughout the 2020 campaign, in the wake of nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd and other unarmed black people by police officers, Joe Biden committed himself to reforming law enforcement and combating police violence. But significant challenges loom in Biden’s quest for police reform. The federal government’s role in state and local law enforcement agencies is limited, and Biden’s ability to shepherd police reform legislation through Congress will be hampered by Republican opposition and disinclined moderate Democrats. Despite these obstacles, however, Biden is not powerless to make strides towards his campaign goals. Through his Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, he holds a significant power over local policing.