Publications

    Designing for Community Engagement: Toward More Equitable Civic Participation in the Federal Regulatory Process

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

    To understand the advantages of and challenges to 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 local community engagement experts, public sector leaders, and on-the-ground organizers to share their expertise in designing processes that support more inclusive engagement, in particular working with historically underserved communities.

    During this discussion with local community engagement experts, we sought to identify the process designs and other innovations that would empower residents to exercise meaningful influence over decisions about the formation, review, and implementation of regulations. Our discussion focused on extending community engagement processes to give grassroots groups and affected parties a voice in the federal regulatory process.

    These experts agreed that when engagement is designed intentionally, policymakers can work with communities more effectively to garner information and insights, implement programs or provide services, and build trusting relationships. Furthermore, while participation in and of itself is important, designing more effective engagement can also ensure that participants identify and harness opportunities to protect their interests and influence decision-making. And, most importantly, transparent and inclusive engagement practices can improve policy outcomes and strengthen equity.

    Assessing the U.S. Treasury Department’s Allocations of Funding for Tribal Governments under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

    Eric C. Henson, Miriam R. Jorgensen, Joseph P. Kalt, & Isabelle G. Leonaitis; November 2021  

    The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“the Act” or “ARPA”) has resulted in the single largest infusion of federal funding for Native America in U.S. history. The core of this funding is $20 billion for the more than 570 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments. As required by the Act, the Department of the Treasury (“Treasury” or “the Department”) devised and has now implemented a formula for allocating these monies. In this report, the authors find that the allocations that have been made are grossly inequitable and contrary to the policy objectives of Congress, the Biden Administration, and the Treasury Department itself.

     

    This study uses publicly available information to estimate enrollment and employment counts for tribes. These figures are only estimates created for the express purpose of analyzing the appropriateness of the US Department of the Treasury’s American Rescue Plan Act allocations. Our estimates have not and cannot be verified against actual enrollment or employment data submitted to the Department of Treasury by each tribe.  We believe the estimates are as accurate as possible and reliable for the purpose of assessing the relative positions of tribes under Treasury’s ARPA allocations, but should not be extracted and used as accurate for any individual tribe or for any purpose other than how they are used here.

     

    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.

    Toward a Smarter Future: Building Back Better with Intelligent Civil Infrastructure -- Smart Sensors and Self-Monitoring Civil Works

    Stephen Goldsmith, Betsy Gardner, and Jill Jamieson; September 2021 

     

    The United States needs to build better infrastructure. The current repairs and replacements are disorganized and patchwork, resulting in unsafe, costly, and inequitable roads, bridges, dams, sidewalks, and water systems. A strategic, smart infrastructure plan that integrates digital technology, sensors, and data not only addresses these issues but can mitigate risks and even improve the conditions and structures that shape our daily lives.

     

    By applying data analysis to intelligent infrastructure, which integrates digital technology and smart sensors, we can identify issues with the country’s roadways, buildings, and bridges before they become acute dangers. First, by identifying infrastructure weaknesses, smart infrastructure systems can address decades of deferred maintenance, a practice that has left many structures in perilous conditions. Sensors in pavement, bridges, vehicles, and sewer systems can target where these problems exist, allowing governments to allocate funding toward the neediest projects.

    From there, these sensors and other smart technologies will alert leaders to changes or issues before they pose a danger—and often before a human inspector can even see them. The many infrastructure emergencies in the U.S. cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars each year, so identifying and fixing these issues is a pressing security issue. Further, as the changing climate leads to more extreme weather and natural disasters, the safety and resiliency of the country’s infrastructure is an immediate concern. Sensor systems and other intelligent infrastructure technology can identify and mitigate these problems, saving money and lives.

    In addition, intelligent infrastructure can be layered onto existing infrastructure to address public health concerns, like monitoring sewer water for COVID-19 and other pathogens or installing smart sensors along dangerous interstates to automatically lower speed limits and reduce accidents. It can also be used to improve materials, like concrete, to reduce the carbon footprint of a project, ultimately contributing to better health and environmental outcomes.

    Finally, addressing inequities is a major reason to utilize intelligent infrastructure. Research shows that people of color in the U.S. are exposed to more pollutants, toxic chemicals, and physical danger through excess car emissions, aging water pipes, and poor road conditions. The implementation and funding of these intelligent infrastructure projects must consider where—and to whom—harm has traditionally been done and how building back better can measurably improve the quality of life in marginalized and vulnerable communities.

    While there are challenges to implementing a sweeping intelligent infrastructure plan, including upfront costs and security concerns, all levels of government play a role in achieving a safer society. At the federal level, with infrastructure funding bills being debated at this moment, the government must look beyond roads and bridges and consider that intelligent infrastructure is a system: upheld, connected, and integrated by data. Through grants, incentives, and authorized funding, the federal government can effect monumental change that will improve how all residents experience their daily lives. At the state level, budgeting with intelligent infrastructure in mind will encourage innovative approaches to local infrastructure. And on a municipal level, cities and towns can invest in comprehensive asset management systems and training for local workers to best utilize the intelligent infrastructure data.

    Emerging Stronger than Before: Guidelines for the Federal Role in American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes’ Recovery from the COVID‐19 Pandemic

    The COVID‐19 pandemic has wrought havoc in Indian Country. While the American people as a whole have borne extreme pain and suffering, and the transition back to “normal” will be drawn out and difficult, the First Peoples of America arguably have suffered the most severe and most negative consequences of all. The highest rates of positive COVID‐19 cases have been found among American Indian tribes, but that is only part of the story.

    Even before the pandemic, the average household income for Native Americans living on Indian reservations was barely half the U.S. average. Then the pandemic effectively shut down the economies of many tribal nations. In the process, tribal governments’ primary sources of the funding – which are needed to fight the pandemic and to meet citizens’ needs – have been decimated.

    As with the rest of the U.S., emergency and interim support from the CARES Act and other federal measures have helped to dampen the social and economic harm of the COVID‐19 crisis in Indian Country. Yet this assistance has come to the country’s 574 federally recognized Indian tribes with litigation‐driven delay and counterproductive strings attached, and against a pre‐ pandemic background characterized by federal government underfunding and neglect – especially as compared to the funding provided and attention paid to state and local governments.

    Recommendations for Allocation and Administration of American Rescue Plan Act Funding for American Indian Tribal Governments

    Eric C. Henson, Megan Hill, Miriam R. Jorgensen, and Joseph P. Kalt; April 2021

    The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides the largest infusion of federal funding for Indian Country in the history of the United States. More than $32 billion dollars is directed toward assisting American Indian nations and communities as they work to end and recover from the devastating COVID19 pandemic – which was made worse in Indian Country precisely because such funding is long overdue.

    In this policy brief, we set out recommendations which we hope will promote the wise and productive allocation of ARPA funds to the nation’s 574 federally recognized American Indian tribes. We see ARPA as a potential “Marshall Plan” for the revitalization of Indian nations. The Act holds the promise of materially remedying at least some of the gross, documented, and long-standing underfunding of federal obligations and responsibilities in Indian Country. Yet, fulfilling that promise requires that the federal government expeditiously and wisely allocate ARPA funds to tribes, and that tribes efficiently and effectively deploy those funds to maximize their positive impacts on tribal communities.

    Policy Memo Regarding the Allocation of COVID-19 Response Funds to American Indian Nations
    Akee, Randall K.Q., Joseph P. Kalt, Eric C. Henson, and Miriam Jorgenson. 2020. “Policy Memo Regarding the Allocation of COVID-19 Response Funds to American Indian Nations”. Read the full memo text Abstract

    The COVID-19 crisis poses an immediate threat to three decades of improvement in economic conditions across Indian Country. Federal policies of tribal self-determination through self government have gradually, if unevenly, allowed economic development to take hold in Indian County. Nevertheless, the poverty gap for American Indians is large and hard to close. American Indian/Alaska Native household incomes remain barely half that of the typical household in the US. Tribes now routinely undertake and self-fund the full array of basic governmental services – from law enforcement and public safety to social services and educational support – that we expect any state or local government to provide.

    Tribes lack the traditional tax bases enjoyed by state and local governments. Tribal enterprise revenues – both gaming and non-gaming – are tribes’ effective tax bases. Prior to the total shutdown of their casinos, tribes’ gaming enterprises alone were channeling more than $12.5 billion per year into tribal government programs and services . No tribal casinos are operating at this time. The same applies to many non-gaming enterprises and many tribal government programs. The COVID-19 crisis is devastating tribes’ abilities to fund their provision of basic governmental services and forcing tribes to make painful decisions to lay off employees, drop workers’ insurance coverage, deplete assets, and/or take on more debt.