on August 18, 2002
The aptly named Paul Light sheds a great deal of it on an obscure but vitally important subject: the shape, size, influence, and accountability of the federal government. Light, a scholar with the Brookings Institute, argues (backed by a formidable array of statistics) that politicians in both major parties have said one thing and done another: they have kept the ostensible size of the government "small" by slapping a headcount limit on how many civil servants there are, while increasing the "shadow" that government casts by outsourcing government functions to private companies, temporary staffers, nonprofits, and by imposing unfunded mandates on states and localities. By doing this, elected officials could claim that they reduced the size of government and yet delivered the many government services that citizens clamor for (all the while complaining about the government itself). The book actually can be divided into three parts: first, Light talks about how the decrease in the "headcount" and the increase in the "shadow" took place. Second, Light talks about the accountability implications of the "shadow" (private contractors are not as readily accountable to policymakers as civil servants). Third, Light expounds on the need to distinguish governmental from nongovernmental competencies (i.e. what should be privatized and what should be kept in the civil service?) Along the way, Light gives a great tour of federal personnel management issues such as how buyouts work as opposed to Reductions In Force, and how privatization actually has a long history in this country. If you read this book, you will appreciate how Circular A-76 (an Eisenhower administrative regulation that prohibited executive branch agencies from competing with private business) should probably have a place in high school history books. Books on the structure of government typically induce MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) reactions from people. They should not. This book deserves a wider readership than it probably gets. Also good from this author: "the New Public Service" and "Tides of Reform."
on October 15, 2000
Light does an excellent job in this book describing the government's manupulation of the "True Size of Government." Light makes several important points in this very important work, which addresses contemporary issues in public management. He describes how the government is portrayed in numbers of civil servants -- creating an illusion of smallness -- but often neglects to point out the numbers of state, local, and third-party government participants that nearly double the size of the workforce the government reports. Light also points out that the girth of government may be shrinking, but the organizational levels continue to grow as changes in the government workforce have driven an exponential growth in government executive positions.
Light is an excellent writer, and visionary in government studies. You will find this book very informative, and easy to read.