Archives: 04/2009

Speaking of Broken Promises …

… or at least implied promises, candidate Obama lamented the Bush administration’s overuse of the “state secrets” privilege.

But last week, the Obama Justice Department filed a motion that embraces Bush administration arguments and even seeks to extend them. Glenn Greenwald has the details of the Obama administration’s “new and worse” approach to “state secrets.”

What’s the Job of the Institute of Education Sciences?

I don’t have much to add to Andrew’s post on Russ Whitehurst’s defense of Arne Duncan. Even with what Whitehurst wrote, I simply don’t buy that Duncan didn’t know of the D.C. voucher evaluation’s results, or even its very existence, while Congress was debating the program’s fate a little over a month ago.  But, unfortunately, the reality is that neither I nor anyone else will probably ever get a clear look inside the black box of who really knew what, when, in the Department of Education.

So suppose the secretary really was totally clueless. What does this say about the value of the Institute of Education Sciences, the division of the Education Department responsible for the report? IES received the evaluation results in November and released the report on April 3. Clearly, it had the results well in advance of congressional action on the program. That leaves only a few reasons why it wouldn’t have released the findings — or even something characterized as “expedited” or “preliminary” — in time to inform congressional debate:

  1. IES employees hadn’t sufficiently scrutinized — or perhaps even looked at — the report several months after they had received it.
  2. IES had scrutinized the report and couldn’t push out the results because of strict adherence to rigid bureaucratic procedures.
  3. For political or other reasons, IES purposely sat on the results.

None of those, quite simply, are acceptable answers given the job of IES as stated clearly on the Department of Education’s website:

The mission of IES is to provide rigorous evidence on which to ground education practice and policy.

Mission disturbingly not accomplished, IES.

Whitehurst: “Duncan Is Not Lying”

Brookings senior fellow Grover Whitehurst has just come to the defense of education secretary Arne Duncan over charges that Duncan sat on (or remained “willfully ignorant” of) a study showing that the D.C. voucher program is boosting achievement. The Senate passed a bill sunsetting funding for the program on March 10, but Whitehurst contends Duncan wouldn’t have known about the study’s results until a week or so later (it was released on April 6th).

Until last November, Whitehurst was head of the Institute for Education Sciences (IES), which released the new voucher study. He obviously knows its timelines and procedures. But even Whitehurst acknowledges that there is ”substantial reason to believe that the secretary didn’t want to draw attention to the report,” citing the choice of a Friday release (Friday releases were deliberately discontinued by the IES years ago) and the mysterious absence of the news briefing that typically accompanies the release of such reports.

So what is a fair observer to think of Secretary Duncan based on Whitehursts’ revelations? Duncan may not have had an opportunity to sit on the report, because he may not have known about it. But Duncan had ultimate control over its release and it looks as though he went out of his way to bury it.

Why would a secretary of education bury a study showing that one government program (vouchers) produces better outcomes than another government program (D.C. public schooling) at one quarter the cost? No flattering explanation comes to mind. Perhaps someone else will come forward to defend Duncan on this point.

Or perhaps the secretary himself might like to share with the American people why this study was buried at the bottom of a locked filing cabinet in the basement of an abandoned building with a hand scrawled “beware of leopard” sign affixed to it. Maybe he would like to let us know why he isn’t touting private school choice as a model for the states to emulate at a time when outcomes are languishing and money is tight. The only justification he has offered for not doing so is risible: it doesn’t serve enough kids. As Cato’s David Boaz pointed out earlier today, it is only limited in size because, uh…, Congress statutorily limited its size. We know that many more parents would like vouchers. We know from the international evidence that the supply of schools rises to meet demand, just as supply rises to meet demand in other fields.

But we also know that the Democratic party is beholden to the teachers unions and that the National Education Association sent a letter to congressional Democrats — not to all of Congress, mind you, it’s addressed “to Democrats” — demanding that they kill the D.C. voucher program.

Because of the constant pressure exerted by the NEA, Democrats who might otherwise have supported the program have voted to let it — and the hopes of 1,700 poor kids — die. To reverse their decision, a countervailing public pressure must be brought to save it.

And that is why Grover Whitehurst is mistaken when he says that ”the future of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program is far more important than the contretemps” over the secretary’s handling of the voucher study. The future of the program depends on that “contretemps.” Were it not for the public outcry, there would be no political pressure on Democrats to rethink their decision to feed these children back into the D.C. public schools.

And as someone who is much happier under divided government than under the unitary rule of either major party, I hope that Democrats figure out that long-term political calculus demands support for educational freedom. When the $100 billion ”stimulus” spending on public schools accomplishes little or nothing — as it will — the public will be even angrier at the politicians extorting them into those schools. And the party associated with defending that system to the bitter end against the wishes of families won’t recover for a long while.

A Flagging Obama Transparency Effort

President Obama made some very firm commitments about transparency as a campaigner. Among other things, he promised to post bills online for five days before he signs them. This promise has been fulfilled just once - and in that case, only arguably.

The Obama campaign Web site promised “Sunlight Before Signing:

Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them. As president, Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days.”

To a roar of approval, President Obama pledged on the campaign trail: “[W]hen there is a bill that ends up on my desk as a president, you the public will have five days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it, so that you know what your government’s doing.”

Here’s a look at the White House’s uneven efforts to fulfill that promise:

Of the eleven bills President Obama has signed, only six have been posted on Whitehouse.gov. None have been posted for a full five days after presentment from Congress.

One bill, the DTV Delay Act, was posted after it was cleared for presentment by Congress February 4th, with the President signing it February 11th. This arguably satisfies the five-day promise, though presentment - a constitutional step in the legislative process - would be a better time to start the five-day clock. (Congress presented it February 9th.)

Several times the White House has posted a bill while it remains in Congress, attempting to satisfy the five-day rule. But this doesn’t give the public an opportunity to review the final legislation - especially any last minute amendments. Versions of the children’s health insurance legislation, the omnibus spending bill, and the omnibus public land management bill were linked to from Whitehouse.gov while making their ways through Congress, but not posted in final form.

(The page linking to the omnibus spending bill was not highlighted in the White House blog or anywhere else on Whitehouse.gov I could find. The only evidence I found of when it was posted comes from Web commentary.)

Is five days too much to ask? The President did allow for an emergency exception, and it would not be appropriate to hold off signing a bill if life and health were immediately threatened.

The President signed a couple of bills with deadlines pressing. These were the continuing resolution, the omnibus spending bill, and the extensions of immigration and small business programs. Congress produced the crush, though, with its timing in passing the bills; the deadlines were not a product of extrinsic forces or emergencies. (A firmly enforced five-day rule would cause Congress to pass bills five days earlier when programs were expiring - after much tribulation about who is responsible when a program lapses for failure to timely reauthorize it, of course.)

Despite the economic conditions, the Recovery Act was not treated as emergency legislation by Congress or the President. Congress waited three days after its Friday passage to present it to the President, and he enjoyed a weekend visit to Chicago before signing the bill four days after it passed (one day after presentment) in Denver.

The President has signed most bills within a day or two of their presentment from Congress, violating his campaign promise. He has signed two bills more than five days after presentment, but - ironically, because it preserves the broken promise - not posted them on Whitehouse.gov.

 

Public Law Date Presented Date Signed Posted (Linked) for Comment? Five Days?
P.L. 111-2, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 1/28/2009 1/29/2009 1/29/2009 No
P.L. 111-3, The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 2/4/2009 2/4/2009 2/1/2009 No
P.L. 111-4, The DTV Delay Act 2/9/2009 2/11/2009 2/5/2009 Yes and No
P.L. 111-5, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 2/16/2009 2/17/2009 2/13/2009 No
P.L. 111-6, Making further continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2009, and for other purposes 3/6/2009 3/6/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-7, A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2105 East Cook Street in Springfield, Illinois, as the “Colonel John H. Wilson, Jr. Post Office Building” 2/26/09 3/9/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-8, The Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 3/11/2009 3/11/2009 3/6/2009 No
P.L. 111-9, To extend certain immigration programs 3/18/2009 3/20/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-10, To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 3/19/2009 3/20/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-11, The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 No
P.L. 111-12, The Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2009 3/24/2009 3/30/2009 No n/a

New at Cato

Here are a few highlights from Cato Today, a daily email from the Cato Institute. You can subscribe, here.

  • Alan Reynolds explains what really triggered the world recession and why the U.S. should not be the first to be blamed in the New York Post.
  • Will Wilkinson discusses why the current economic crisis cannot be compared to the Great Depression in Marketplace.
  • Watch  Daniel J. Mitchell debate whether the economy is headed in the right direction on CNBC.
  • Thursday’s Cato Daily Podcast features James A. Dorn discussing China’s proposition for a new world currency.

Hawaiians Don’t Wait for Government - Rebuild Road

The spirit of 1776 is alive and well in Kauai:

Their livelihood was being threatened, and they were tired of waiting for government help, so business owners and residents on Hawaii’s Kauai island pulled together and completed a $4 million repair job to a state park – for free.

“We can wait around for the state or federal government to make this move, or we can go out and do our part,” Slack said. “Just like everyone’s sitting around waiting for a stimulus check, we were waiting for this but decided we couldn’t wait anymore.”

It’s amazing what a little private initiative and economic incentive can do.  Contrast this story with that of a bridge being built to connect Microsoft campuses in Redmond, WA with federal “stimulus” money.

Obama Tax Policies and Beyond

I was a panelist for a Tax Notes forum on April 3 regarding Obama’s tax policies. The other panelists were Len Burman of the Urban Institute and Gene Steuerle of the Peterson Foundation. It was an expert and ideologically diverse panel, but nobody was fond of Obama’s fiscal policy direction. (In the photo, that’s former CBO director Rudy Penner to my left. Photo credit to Derek Squires)

Tax Notes summarized the discussion: “A diverse panel of economists and tax specialists largely agreed … that President Obama’s tax and budget plans at best would fail to forestall long-term fiscal ruin and could even hasten its arrival.” One point of agreement was that the tax code is too complex and it doesn’t need the complicated new tax credits that Obama has proposed.

Where we differed was on the need for added federal revenue, and herein lies the big tax policy battle ahead. Len thought that some form of new value-added tax (VAT) was inevitable in order that the government could  raise more money. I am increasingly hearing that argument from top fiscal scholars, and I fear that the drumbeat for a VAT will get louder.

Dan Mitchell and I are dead-set against a VAT because it will be a tool to fund even larger government, as we discuss in Global Tax Revolution. But supporters of limited government need to start watching this issue and making preparations to ward off a Euro-style money machine.