In the domain of public policy, there often appears to be an inverse relationship between our ability to identify and define, sometimes with great specificity, the scale and dimensions of the problems we face and our capacity to address them. One reason for this state of affairs is that our major public policy dilemmas are interconnected — attention to one would require attention to many — and without the threat of catastrophic crisis, no action or piecemeal action is invariably preferred to comprehensive action.

But there is at least one other important factor at work: the question of who are the agents, public or private, responsible for developing and implementing the remedy. Indeed, for every public issue there is a second set of interconnections — a network of interconnected public responsibilities, a subtext of shared responsibilities that we are slow to recognize and slower still to act on. The executive branch passes the buck to Congress; both, too often, abrogate their responsibilities to the courts; the federal government points the finger at state government, and state government, itself no slouch when it comes to the fine art of buck passing, unloads on the cities and towns. Nor does it stop there. Public responsibilities are not synonymous with the public sector. Public-private partnerships, community organizations, philanthropic foundations, volunteerism — all at one time or another are the responsible agents of policy development and implementation. But they too are prone to view their responsibilities in the narrow context of their own missions. Thus, in both the public and the private sector, roles are ill defined and ill suited to the tasks at hand, and the structure of the interconnections are confused, leaving many public policy problems in a vacuum — the child of many in matters of identification and definition, an orphan to all in developing and implementing a remedy.

Addressing public policy issues in the context of the agents responsible for developing and implementing remedies for specific problems is an underlying theme in the issue of the New England Journal of Public Policy.

Included in

Public Policy Commons



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