Introducing Carlyle’s Dusty Shelf Award!
The late Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin, a Democrat who succeeded Joe McCarthy, was famous for his Golden Fleece Award which, according to Wikipedia, “identified wasteful government spending between 1975 and 1988. The first was awarded in 1975 to the National Science Foundation, for funding an $84,000 study on why people fall in love. Other Golden Fleece awards over the years were “awarded” to the Justice Department for conducting a study on why prisoners wanted to get out of jail, the National Institute of Mental Health to study a Peruvian brothel (“The researchers said they made repeated visits in the interests of accuracy,” reported the New York Times), and the Federal Aviation Administration, for studying “the physical measurements of 432 airline stewardesses, paying special attention to the ‘length of the buttocks.’”
With due respect and credit to Proxmire, whom I had the honor of working with as a page in the U.S. Senate from 1980-1982, I’d like to announce the Washington State Dusty Shelf Award. It’s a new honor that I will bestow from time to time when I uncover a REPORT issued by a state sanctioned commission, task force, working group or other assembly of public and/or private sector that ends up on the Dust Shelf of Inaction.
I realize that many reports are works in progress and many recommendations do ultimately find action in some form or another (through Administrative action or legislative inclusion, etc.) and it’s not always possible to get it right. Simply, there may be mistakes in that some reports may, in fact, have introduced traction or even action. But on the surface it seems that the report has been sent to the proverbial Dusty Shelf of Inaction and the work product or other actionable recommendations have been shelved.
Task forces, studies and commissions play a vital role and often lead to bold action. Often they are a political excuse covered by fancy language and recommendations that go nowhere. In full disclosure, my second piece of legislation, House Bill 1946, is a study of how to transform the use of technology in higher education in Washington State. The task force–with representatives from every institution and stakeholder–kicks off this Friday. It could be tremendous piece of work that leads to saving tens of millions of dollars and improving services for students, faculty and administrators statewide–or it could be a complete flop. It depends.
It’s important to note that many of the people who work on producing these reports deserve enormous credit. They work hard, study hard, explore options and take the recommendations very, very seriously. But something seems to happen between the work of designing the recommendations and strategies and the ‘action step’ of implementation. Perhaps it’s money, time, waning enthusiasm or larger policy concerns. Or perhaps it’s straight politics. Or both.
I hope the transparency and light of some attention might focus more effort on the substance of the policy issue itself. Whether I agree or disagree with the report recommendations, we should see every Dusty Shelf Award winner as a teachable moment.
Please reach out and let me know your suggestions!
Visit tomorrow to see our first Dusty Shelf Award winner!