Cases of Policy Formulation

An interesting case illustrates the meshing of the two roles. Stansfield Turner, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) during the Carter administration, has described his role in policy formulation: He brought what he, in his professional judgment, considered valid, focused, empirical, and timely analytical reports to the policy-makers around the President. He would speak only to the technical aspects, recognizing explicitly that he was not a policy-maker, but a policy analyst. The hearings around the nomination of Robert Gates to CIA turned on whether Gates, a career professional in CIA, participated in an organization-wide effort to "cook the books," distort the analysis to influence the decisions by the policy makers. The uniquely open Senate confirmation hearings painted a picture of career CIA professionals like Turner as essentially authors of technical reports, an activity somewhat similar to what students know as "term papers." Gates was confirmed.

Policy statements often provide only the appearance of a genuine effort to solve whatever problem has been placed on the agenda. A particular policy may be put forward as a ploy: a manipulation of the Public Policy process for strictly political ends and not a genuine attempt to address the issue placed on the agenda. For example, rather than take the unpleasant constituent reaction to budget-cutting, some may prefer instead to staunchly advocate a Constitutional amendment forbidding deficit spending, which would take years and is unlikely anyway. Political officials who choose the harder road of fiscal restraint may find this not only politically disadvantageous, but may be victimized by the distorted rhetoric of an opponent advocating the empty slogan of a Constitutional amendment. A related machination is to back a policy which is designed solely to confuse constituents into assuming that their issue is being addressed when, in fact, it is merely being avoided. Frequently, the task at hand is defined as getting a constituency off a public official's back, keeping the media at bay, or just waiting for the problem to fade away. Be wary of pseudo-alternatives which appear to address the issue, but really provide only lip service, partisan political advantage, delay, avoidance, or temporary amelioration.

An example which illustrates the distinction between a distorted statement of policy and actual policy is the posture of the American military in the attempted coup in Panama in October, 1989. At a news conference, remarks by President Bush appeared to have invited such a coup by the Panamanian Defense Forces. His build-up of American forces in Panama contributed to this widely shared impression. A coup attempt soon followed by the PDF. American forces did not play a role and the coup failed. Did the rebel military officers in Panama take the policy statement as an intention to act? They said they did.

President Kennedy had similarly misled Cubans in the U.S.A. when he withdrew his promise of air support during the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The makeshift armada of Cuban-Americans from Florida expected that the President would use the invasion as a pretext for American military involvement, thus assuring their victory and the ouster of Fidel Castro, Cuba's dictator. Kennedy deeply regretted the action, blamed the CIA for bad advice, and drastically overhauled his decision making process, incorporating more diverse and generalist views in lieu of purely technical advisors. The mistake drove now embittered Cuban-Americans into the Republican party.

A final case in point involves President Lyndon Baines Johnson's decision to mount a War on Poverty as part of his Great Society program, emulating the New Deal. According to Sargent Shriver, the brother-in-law to the late President Kennedy and founder of the successful Peace Corps, President Johnson relentlessly persuaded him to head the envisioned poverty program. Skeptical, Shriver asked for details and was amazed to discover that Johnson, a former Senator and supremely crafty legislator, was sure of authorization, had skipped the analytical phase entirely, and simply expected Shriver to make the policy work during the implementation stage. The subsequent evaluation of the whole effort was that it had basically failed as a policy plan, but had created some successful programs, such as Head Start, a federally funded pre-school intervention program for poor families.

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Initialized: July 11, 2001 | Last Update: 06/01/2014