Pressman and wildavsky

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Review of Implementation

By Jeffrey L. Pressman & Aaron Wildavsky

Review by Kimberly Harding



When this book was written, the study of policy implementation was just beginning to be studied. Pressman and Wildavsky analyze the struggles of policy implementation of the Economic Development Administration's (EDA) plan to hire the hardcore unemployed minorities of Oakland, CA in their book Implementation: How Great Expectations in Washington are Dashed in Oakland; Or, Why It's Amazing that Federal Programs Work at All. The authors examine the problems that the EDA had with this particular case as well as analyze exactly what happened to cause the program with such great expectations to produce such meager results. They also use what happened in Oakland to provide insight into other policy implementation strategies so that mistakes in Oakland can be avoided by future projects. In the beginning, there were high hopes for the program. Oakland seemed like the perfect city based on its history of high unemployment, political situation, potential for riot, and previous contacts and experience. The EDA was a relatively new organization, meaning that it had priority over other organizations and people were very concerned with its success. The leaders were very invested in the program and dealt with the decisions and program as a whole with much fervor. In addition, there was sufficient money available to fund the programs necessary to pull Oakland's employment statistics up. However, things had to move quickly, forcing a decision-making strategy of fast decisions in a "do something now, or do nothing at all"-type atmosphere.

The EDA quickly chose the projects that it would endorse and grant/loan money in order to create jobs. These originally included:

  • An airport hangar, $10,650,000
  • A marine terminal, $10,125,000
  • A port industrial park, $2,100,000
  • An access road to the coliseum, $414,000

Later, programs like an air cargo terminal, an auxiliary airport tower and twenty small aircraft hangars were added.

Unfortunately, problems arose quickly while trying to implement these programs. The major problem with the effort was that the EDA had falsely characterized their urban experiment. Previous governmental work with rural areas had led them into a mindset and it was difficult to change this for the experiment in Oakland. Also, the newness of the program quickly wore off and changes in leadership as well as the convoluted structure of government in Oakland led to delays and hold ups in the program. In turn, these delays as well as problems with the contracted companies led to cost increases, the first of many problems for the Oakland project. For example, the original estimated cost of $10,650,000 for the airport hangar in 1966 went up to an estimated $15,196,520 just two years later in 1968. The leadership changes also led to a diminished interest in what happened in Oakland. Washington just did not care as much about implementing the program as time went on. Also, the EDA ran into the problem of "performance versus promise" with the companies, where, since the companies had already received their funding, they did not fully comply with the regulations they had agreed to. Other problems arose as well, leading to the creation of many fewer jobs than originally anticipated.

After examining the situation in Oakland, the authors made some conclusions about policy implementation in general. First, and most importantly, they concluded that policy makers cannot separate implementation from policy. The problem is that in general, policy makers do not make implementation an initial part of the formulation of policy. In order to do this, they suggest that policy makers find a more direct means for accomplishing the ends. Thus, they must find a way to eliminate some of the cumbersome decisions involved in the process in an effort to reduce delays. In this case, simplicity is best because with each decision that must be made, the chances of completing the project on time or even at all go down considerably. The simpler the process, the less difficult the decisions, and the fewer delays; thus, the more efficient the policy implementation. Also, the authors suggest trying to create organizational machinery for the execution of programs as well as the licensing of programs.

The authors also recognized the need to view policy implementation as more of an evolution than a revolution. Frequently, implementers say that what they accomplished and did with the program was what they had always meant to do. This is rarely the case. Implementation is a process that must evolve. Leaders of programs make decisions after the act of creating the policy as well as before and during the policy creation. The process is not solely about getting what you once wanted, but rather about getting what you have learned to prefer. Preferences and the proper decisions change over time and it is necessary to evolve the policy and implementation with these changes.

Assessments of the project in Oakland were then related to other real and possible situations, such as the relation of the EDA programs to the process of giving foreign aid. The atmosphere of need and the need to spend money in a hurry are characteristic of both situations. However, neither of these characteristics is conducive to a successful policy implementation. Additionally, the authors concluded that different combinations of policy decisions and execution can create both positive and negative outcomes. For example, if a good policy is combined with good execution, the outcome is positive because a good program was implemented. Similiarly, if a bad policy is poorly implemented, this also provides a positive outcome because the bad policy was not able to be carried out. However, if a good/bad combination takes place, the outcome is negative, because there was obviously a problem somewhere along the line.

The authors point out that one important quality for successful policy implementation is to have people involved that are more prone to "knowing how" than to "knowing that". Knowing facts and ways to implement policy is not nearly as important to policy success as knowing how to make things happen and to do things right.

Pressman and Wildavsky make great points about the way policies should be instated, based on their case study of Oakland. While I felt that the intense detail of the Oakland project was a little overwhelming, I was surprised at how well they applied it to other situations in the nation. However, it was necessary to bring yourself back in time a bit and realize that the programs they were speaking about were from a very different era, as th book was published in 1973 and the Oakland project took place in the late 1960's. Even so, the concepts and flaws pointed out by the authors are still undoubtedly prevalent in today's society.

In his review of Implementation, Kenneth Walter asserts that after finishing this book, readers wonder how any programs ever succeed. He also states that the most important principle the reader can gain from this book is again, that "policy should be divorced from implementation" as too frequently policy makers focus too strongly on the design and support for the policy and ignore the implementation, viewing it as the easiest part of the process. He also makes note of the importance of interest groups in policy planning, for their power is not to be underestimated. I wholeheartedly agree with Walter's views of this book as I, too, was surprised at the enormous possibilities for failure in policy proposal and implementation and was surprised with the authors' ability to apply this case study to other programs.