Welcome to Statecraft!
In this newsletter, we interview top political appointees, civil servants, and policy entrepreneurs about how they achieved a specific policy goal.
In Statecraft, we’re nerds for the procedural, the nitty-gritty. We won’t be lobbing softballs: instead, we’ll push interviewees to explain exactly how the sausage gets made: How do successful government initiatives happen? Who did you have to win over to make them happen? And, just as importantly: What did you learn from failing? What would you have done differently?
We think these interviews can serve as roadmaps for readers trying to get big hairy things done in the public sector, and illuminate the inner workings of government for the policy-curious. We also think they’re tremendous stories.
Here are some interviews you can look forward to:
How to extract weapons-grade uranium from post-Soviet states, with Andy Weber
How to save ~20 million lives through an AIDS program, with Mark Dybul
How to salvage the VA, with Marina Nitze
How to acquire new technology for national security, with David Rothzeid
How to fix a federal website 10,000 small businesses need, with Robbie Holmes
Why this newsletter exists
On both sides of the aisle, there’s been increased attention to the idea of state capacity, the government’s ability to do the things it sets out to do. There’s a shared sense that this ability has atrophied. The specific cases invoked vary, but they include the FDA’s slow response to COVID-19, housing shortages, multi-year backlogs for entry visas, the Obamacare website rollout, California’s failure to build high speed rail, and so on.
Liberals and conservatives disagree about the macro-level solutions to our lack of state capacity: do we need more funding? Fewer regulations? We’ll interview folks of all ideological stripes, but we won’t be adjudicating those high-level debates. Instead, we’re after concrete lessons at the micro-level. In our view, these interviewees have lessons about getting stuff done that can help inform anyone trying to achieve results in the public sector. To build state capacity, we need to understand what that means to practitioners in their day-to-day.
The folks we’re interviewing are policy entrepreneurs: people who have worked on policy areas for a while, and have built up implicit knowledge over time. They have the procedural and organizational chops to get stuff done in large, kludgy bureaucracies.
Often, their knowledge is contextual and hard to explain. How do I convince my agency to act? How do I work around the dreaded Paperwork Reduction Act? How do I establish a partnership with the private sector? Our goal with Statecraft is to make this insider knowledge explicit and public — demystifying how governance really works.
We expect there to be some similarities across interviews, like best practices for coalition-building or who not to piss off. But government agencies are heterogeneous, and trying to improve USCIS looks different than trying to improve the DOE. Building state capacity isn’t about turning one dial in a particular direction: each case study will tell us something novel.
We’ll be publishing a new interview every two weeks, and will be operating with support from the Institute for Progress and the Policy Entrepreneurs Network.
An Ask For Readers
We’d love suggestions from readers about who we should interview, and what you’d like to hear them explain. If you have an idea, email email@example.com. We’re looking for interviewees who do some of the below:
Prioritized important but neglected problems.
Worked with the people tasked with implementing their solution (that is. they’re not just armchair generals).
Can reasonably claim ownership of a particular policy or its implementation.
Have important, relevant knowledge that hasn’t been publicized.
Oh, and lastly: Subscribe and tell your friends.
Santi Ruiz and Jake Leffew