Publications

    Democratizing the Federal Regulatory Process: A Blueprint to Strengthen Equity, Dignity, and Civic Engagement through Executive Branch Action

    Archon Fung, Hollie Russon Gilman, and Mark Schmitt; September 2021 

    While legislation tends to get more attention, the regulatory process within the executive branch is at the core of day-to-day democratic governance. Federal regulation and rule-making engages dozens of agencies and affects every American. In writing the rules and regulations to implement laws, revise standards, and exercise the substantial authority granted to the presidency, the agencies of the federal government set directions, priorities, and boundaries for our collective life. At times, the regulatory process has moved the country in the direction of greater justice, equality, and security. At other times, it has pulled us in other directions, often with little public engagement or debate.

    The Biden-Harris administration acknowledged the centrality of the regulatory process with two actions on the President’s first day in office. The first called for modernizing the regulatory review process, particularly the central oversight role of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). The second was an executive order calling on the federal government to support underserved communities and advance racial equity. To understand the challenges to and advantages of a reformed regulatory review process, New America’s Political Reform Program and the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government convened a group of academic experts from across the country to share their findings on the state of regulatory review and to identify alternative measures of not just the cost of regulations, but also the distributional impact of their costs and benefits. These experts specialize in administrative law, economic analysis, public participation, and regulatory review, and their work covers policy areas including patent law, healthcare, and environmental justice.

    Understanding the Role of Local Election Officials: How Local Autonomy Shapes U.S. Election Administration

    Hannah Furstenberg-Beckman, Greg Degen, and Tova Wang; September 2021 

    This policy brief will examine the independence and discretionary powers of local election officials and offer a framework to better understand local autonomy in our electoral system. It will also describe the larger system within which the local election official operates and demonstrate how local power and voter-focused decision-making varies across the country. The brief will use illustrative examples of the exercise of autonomy by local election officials from past elections as well as examples of shifts in local discretionary powers from the recent wave of state legislative efforts that seek to restrict autonomy.

    It will also address the implications of local autonomy for those with an interest in increasing voter access and promoting voter participation. This brief can be a resource for those seeking a better understanding of the possible levers of change in their own state or locality’s electoral system.

    Lift Every Voice: The Urgency of Universal Civic Duty Voting
    Rapoport, Miles, E.J. Dionne, and et al. 2020. “Lift Every Voice: The Urgency of Universal Civic Duty Voting.” Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Brookings Governance Program . Read the full report Abstract

    The Universal Voting Working Group, July 2020 

    Imagine an American democracy remade by its citizens in the very image of its promise, a society where the election system is designed to allow citizens to perform their most basic civic duty with ease. Imagine that all could vote without obstruction or suppression. Imagine Americans who now solemnly accept their responsibilities to sit on juries and to defend our country in a time of war taking their obligations to the work of self-government just as seriously. Imagine elections in which 80 percent or more of our people cast their ballots—broad participation in our great democratic undertaking by citizens of every race, heritage and class, by those with strongly-held ideological beliefs, and those with more moderate or less settled views. And imagine how all of this could instill confidence in our capacity for common action.

    This report is offered with these aspirations in mind and is rooted in the history of American movements to expand voting rights. Our purpose is to propose universal civic duty voting as an indispensable and transformative step toward full electoral participation. Our nation’s current crisis of governance has focused unprecedented public attention on intolerable inequities and demands that Americans think boldly and consider reforms that until now seemed beyond our reach.

    Union Impact on Voter Participation—And How to Expand It

    Tova Wang, May 2020

    Some politicians have enacted measures in recent years to make voting harder and to reduce participation among certain groups. Others have sought to counteract that voter suppression by implementing laws to make voting easier, such as same-day or automatic registration. There is another antidote to the effort to reduce participation: lifting up worker organizations. This is especially important to understand given the ways in which powerful individuals and groups have sought to weaken unions because of their political strength representing American workers.

    In this report, the author first explains efforts to weaken unions and the voice of working people; then what the decline of unions and union membership has meant for participation; next, Wang looks at the data showing the positive effects unions have on voter participation; and finally, she suggests how going forward we can reform the laws and how labor is structured such that it not only continues to facilitate voter participation, but even enhances it.

    Science, Technology, & Democracy: Building a Modern Congressional Technology Assessment Office

    Zach Graves and Daniel Schuman, January 2020

    This paper offers recommendations and a road map for the future success of a restarted technology assessment office in Congress. We look at three potential approaches: (1) Building up the Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s OTA-like capacity in its newly created Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) team, and giving it greater resources and structural autonomy; (2) Reviving OTA but updating its procedures and statutory authority; and (3) A hybrid approach wherein both GAO and a new OTA develop different capacities and specializations. (Spoiler: we favor the third approach.)
     
    The next section of this paper reviews what OTA was and how it functioned. The third section discusses the history of and rationale for the defunding of OTA, other cuts to Congress’s S&T capacity, and why this congressional capacity and expertise matter for democracy. The fourth section reviews efforts to revive OTA and other efforts to build new congressional S&T capacity. The fifth section discusses the political landscape for building S&T capacity, including the legislative branch appropriations process and the different political constituencies for S&T. The final section offers a detailed discussion of various structural recommendations for a new congressional technology assessment office, including an expanded STAA unit in GAO, and a new OTA.
     
    Mathis, Colleen, Daniel Moskowitz, and Benjamin Schneer. 2019. “The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission: One State's Model for Reform”. Read full paper Abstract

    Colleen Mathis, Daniel Moskowitz, and Benjamin Schneer; September 2019 

    In most states, redistricting, the process by which electoral district boundaries are drawn, is an overtly partisan exercise controlled by state legislatures. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2019 decision Rucho v. Common Cause held that federal courts cannot review allegations of partisan gerrymandering. Independent redistricting in practice has proven remarkably successful along several dimensions. This policy brief outlines key lessons learned from redistricting in Arizona, a state with a five-person independent redistricting commission.

    Transparency for Development Team, June 2019 

    This paper assess the impact of a transparency and accountability program designed to improve maternal and newborn health (MNH) outcomes in Indonesia and Tanzania. Co-designed with local partner organizations to be community-led and non-prescriptive, the program sought to encourage community participation to address local barriers in access to high quality care for pregnant women and infants. This paper evaluates the impact of this program through randomized controlled trials (RCTs), involving 100 treatment and 100 control communities in each country, and finds that on average, this program did not have a statistically significant impact on the use or content of maternal and newborn health services, nor the sense of civic efficacy or civic participation among recent mothers in the communities who were offered it.

    Civic Responsibility: The Power of Companies to Increase Voter Turnout

    Sofia Gross and Ashley Spillane, June 2019 

    This case study provides an analysis and evaluation of the implementation of civic participation programs by companies aimed at increasing voter turnout. The United States consistently lags behind the majority of developed democratic nations in voter turnout, averaging less than half of the eligible voter population participating in midterm elections. The U.S. ranks 26th out of 32 developed democracies in percentage of eligible voters who participate in elections. Today, many companies have dedicated resources for corporate social responsibility projects aimed at strengthening society and building goodwill among employees, consumers, and the public. Voter participation initiatives align with the goals of social responsibility projects, as they address a critical societal problem (lack of engagement), while building goodwill with key stakeholders. 

    Muriel Rouyer, May 2019 

    The saga of Brexit, an elusive public policy with shifting objectives but devastating costs, confirms an unpleasant reality: economic interdependence keeps majoritarian will, even that of a sovereign people, in check. Brexit raises the question, fundamental in democracy, of political freedom, which itself calls into question the political community within which freely agreed-upon choices are made.

    Elena Fagotto, Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health, March 2019

    The Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health was established to conduct comparative case studies on platforms that empower patients through information to provide an inventory and typology of initiatives. This case study takes a look at Breast Cancer Straight Talk Support, a closed Facebook community for women dealing with breast cancer and survivors. With hundreds of posts every day, the group is a safe space where women can vent about feeling scared, depressed, or lonely and receive support from women who “get them.” For many members, the group is a window into other women’s cancer journeys, which gives them perspective and a more proactive attitude to fight the disease. The community is also an important resource to ask questions on treatments, side effects, surgery and more.

    Elena Fagotto, Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health, March 2019

    The Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health was established to conduct comparative case studies on platforms that empower patients through information to provide an inventory and typology of initiatives. This case study takes a look at IBD Partners, a research network connecting nearly 15,500 IBD patients with over 300 researchers. Patients can contribute their self-reported health data for research by filling out surveys on their health twice a year. This way, patient-generated data feeds into an extensive database that can be accessed by researchers to conduct longitudinal studies, to connect with patients for clinical trials and for prospective studies. Patients can also use the platform to suggest research questions and vote for the most interesting ideas, generating a truly patient-driven research agenda.

    Elena Fagotto, Transparency and Technology for Better Health, March 2019

    The Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health was established to conduct comparative case studies on platforms that empower patients through information to provide an inventory and typology of initiatives. This case study details ImproveCareNow (ICN), a network of clinicians, medical centers, patients, families and researchers working together to improve the lives of children with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

    Muriel Rouyer, August 2018 

    American liberal democracy, once a model throughout the world, is in crisis. The most obvious symptom of this malaise is a paradoxical attitude that pervades an underprivileged section of the population that, against its own interests, supports the ruling plutocrats. How can we explain this?

    May 2018 

    At the core of the work of the Ash Center and the Kennedy School is the effort to understand how citizens and institutions come together to make democracy work, and rarely before has the importance of this effort been more evident. Underlying the deceptively simple idea of making democracy work are a number of large themes: protecting the fundamental norms of democracy and democratic processes from challenges both in the United States and internationally; encouraging innovation in governance and public accountability; preventing the massive inequalities of our economic system from permeating our democracy and threatening its existence.

    Indeed, one essential element of “making democracy work” in the United States is to have as close to full and inclusive participation of the people who comprise our democracy as we possibly can. The name of our May 3rd symposium, “Getting to 80
    percent,” was chosen with intent; while a goal of 80 percent participation is achievable, it will require a real stretch—not tinkering around the edges of the current system, but instead pursuing a major set of innovative ideas and practices.

    John Gastil, June 2016 

    In this paper, John Gastil calls for designers, reformers, and government sponsors to join together to build an integrated online commons, which links together the best existing tools by making them components in a larger “Democracy Machine.” Gastil sketches out design principles and features that would enable this platform to draw new people into the civic sphere, encourage more sustained and deliberative engagement, and send ongoing feedback to both government and citizens to improve how the public interfaces with the public sector.

    Francisca M. Rojas, June 2012 

    The public disclosure of transit information by agencies is a successful case of open data adoption in the United States. Transit transparency offers insights into the elements that enable effective disclosure and delivery of digital information to the public in cases where there is a strong demand for that information, and where the disclosed information is available at the right place and time for users to act upon.

    Fung, Archon, David Weil, Mary Graham, and Elena Fagotto. 2004. “The Political Economy of Transparency: What Makes Disclosure Policies Effective?”. Read the full report Abstract

    Archon Fung, David Weil, Mary Graham and Elena Fagotto, December 2004 

    Transparency systems have emerged in recent years as a mainstream regulatory tool, an important development in social policy. Transparency systems are government mandates that require corporations or other organizations to provide the public with factual information about their products and practices. Such systems have a wide range of regulatory purposes which include protecting investors, improving public health and safety, reducing pollution, minimizing corruption and improving public services.