Cover image for The tides of reform : making government work, 1945-1995
The tides of reform : making government work, 1945-1995
Light, Paul Charles.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [1997]

Physical Description:
xii, 290 pages ; 24 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
JK411 .L54 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Since 1945, the Congresses and Presidents of the United States have made many efforts to improve the performance of the federal government. This text examines the most important reform statutes passed and concludes that the problem is not too little reform but too much.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

This volume comes at a time when scholars and those involved in government reform are questioning the impact of the "reinvention" movement and its declining momentum. Light, director of the Public Policy Program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, persuasively argues here that bureaucratic reform movements often contain conflicting values and goals that often lead to counterproductive actions. As examples, he points out that reform efforts in U.S. government since World War II have been guided by scientific management, war of waste, watchful eye, and liberation management philosophies. His volume should be required reading for students of politics and public administration and will be enlightening for those concerned about the government's effectiveness.‘William L. Waugh, Georgia State Univ., Atlanta (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Light's new book affirms a striking quotation from Marver Bernstein: "The history of management improvement in the federal government is a story of inflated rhetoric ... and a relatively low level of professional achievement." Most efforts to overhaul public management fail, according to Light, because successive reforms undercut previous ones, reflecting unresolved conflicts about what makes government work well. He identifies four incompatible perspectives ("tides") that have alternated in reform movements: (1) scientific management, emphasizing hierarchy and specialization; (2) the "war on waste"; (3) the "watchful eye," producing administrative "openness"; and (4) "liberation management," demanding that managers be free to manage. To classify historical patterns, Light uses an elaborate coding scheme, analyzing 141 reform statutes passed between 1945 and 1994, including everything from the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 to the Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990. He concludes that shifts among the "tides" are inevitable, but an awareness of their cumulative impacts and unintended consequences may produce more selective reforms in the future. Light's detailed and comprehensive analysis is ultimately a positive statement about the potential for effective public management, one that brings insight and perspective to contemporary reforms. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. M. E. Ethridge; University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee