The two Pauls make a great team of opposites.
Here’s Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman, taller than Kobe Bryant and heavy with gravitas.
There’s Paul Light, the spry professor of public service, armed with the wit of a television talk show host, no taller than Volcker’s shoulders.
They are like a straight-man-and-comic duo. Instead of laughs, however, they come bearing somber news about government, about “the cascade of breakdowns” that leaves the public ill-served.
That’s the thrust of Light’s 37-page paper presented Friday at a National Press Club event sponsored by the Volcker Alliance. The organization focuses on the implementation of public policy and was started by Volcker in 2013, the year he turned 86. Like a granddaddy of public policy, he has served Republican and Democratic presidents during almost three decades of federal work.
He pointed to one cause of government breakdowns by quoting a 1989 commission report he chaired. Volcker said the “erosion in the attractiveness of public service at all levels — most specifically in the federal civil service— undermines the ability of government to respond effectively to the needs and aspirations of the American people, and ultimately damages the democratic process itself.”
By Light’s count, there have been 48 federal agency breakdowns since 2000, from the deadly to the inconvenient, including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the launch of healthcare.gov. In the report and the discussion, and during interviews with both men, they acknowledged government successes.