Escaping Jurassic Government

How to Recover America’s Lost Commitment to Competence

Donald F. Kettl
Release Date: June 28, 2016

Winner of the 2016 Book of the Year Award from the American Society of Public Administration.

Why big government is not the problem

The Progressive government movement, founded on support from Republicans and Democrats alike, reined in corporate trusts and improved the lives of sweatshop workers. It created modern government, from the Federal Reserve to the nation’s budgetary and civil service policies, and most of the programs on which we depend.

Ask Americans today and they will tell you that our government has hit a wall of low performance and high distrust, with huge implications for governance in the country. Instead of a focus on government effectiveness, the movement that spawned the idea of government for the people has become known for creating a big government disconnected from citizens. Donald F. Kettl finds that both political parties have contributed to the decline of the Progressive ideal of a commitment to competence. They have both fed gridlock and created a government that does not work the way citizens expect and deserve.

Kettl argues for a rebirth of the original Progressive spirit, not in pursuit of bigger government but with a bipartisan dedication to better government, one that works on behalf of all citizens and that delivers services effectively. He outlines the problems in today’s government, including political pressures, proxy tools, and managerial failures. Escaping Jurassic Government details the strategies, evidence, and people that can strengthen governmental effectiveness and shut down gridlock.


Praise for Escaping Jurassic Government

Don Kettl has spent his professional life analyzing the performance of
American government. He is worried, deeply worried. The gap between what we
collectively set out for the federal government to do and its capacity to do it effectively and efficiently has become way too large.
What has been so sadly lacking is a consistent, whole-hearted “commitment
to competence.” How else can we restore a sense of confidence in what our government—our great democracy—can do?
—Paul A. Volcker, Chairman, The Volcker Alliance, and former Chairman,
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 1979–1987

Food safety, air traffic control, public health—these are just a few of the areas where government must play a vital role. But in an era where political dysfunction, shrinking resources, hostility to government workers, and increased complexity have eroded both government performance and public faith in government, what can be done? In this important, eloquent, compelling book, Don Kettl uses clear examples, powerful data, and reasoned arguments to show us realistic ways forward. It is an absolute must-read for everyone concerned about America’s future.
—Norman J. Ornstein, Contributing Editor and Columnist, National Journal and The Atlantic

Books on governance are rarely page turners, but Don Kettl offers a lively riposte to liberals and conservatives who fight endlessly over the size and scope of government: It’s competence, stupid. His book unfurls a pragmatic way to narrow the gulf between what Americans expect of their government and its ability to deliver.
—Will Marshall, President, Progressive Policy Institute


Donald F. Kettl is professor and former dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.