Wednesday, May 18, 2011

You Won't Know This If You Weren't Shown

Matt Yglesias flags an interesting Kevin Carey piece about a new initiative on open-resourcing information from community colleges. It looks highly interesting, and if you care about education policy I recommend reading through both linked items.

From the policy process perspective, it's a good jumping-off point to hammer home two extremely important things that don't get enough attention.

One is that most bills passed by Congress these days and signed into law by the president contain multiple pieces, many of which started life as totally separate bills but were combined for reasons of legislative expediency. So this one was passed as part of the education add-on to ACA, the health care reform bill. Now, no one tallying up the efforts of the 111th Congress noticed that they had done some important having to do with this aspect of education, but it turns out they had.

The second is that what happens in the agencies and departments matters. A lot. Of course, Congress is important (see above!), but this particular program, according to Carey's reporting, was really the result of innovative people at the Departments of Labor and Education -- in particular, apparently a guy named Hal Plotkin at Education. For the press, the lesson here is to pay more attention to policy-making at the administrative level, and not just at the legislative level (the terms are customary but not illuminating; lots of things that happen in the departments and agencies look just like "laws" and function the same way). For the president, and for those who worked to elect the president, the takeaway is that fully staffing the administration is highly important. Each vacancy is an opportunity lost for creative, innovative policy-making that would have carried out another piece of the agenda the president ran on back during the election.

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