Swamped with your writing assignments? Take the weight off your shoulder!
3-4 pages, double-spaced, 12-point font. (No more, and no less.) Make sure you have a paper title and that you attend to the basics of good composition, including attention to organization and grammar. (If you have any questions about this, let’s talk.)
Note that we will be “scaffolding” this assignment in pieces with two blackboard assignments.
Your assignment is to evaluate a government agency. How well is it doing its job?
There are a few things to do here:
1. Describe your agency. Questions to consider: What is it? What does it do? What is the budget, size, mission and history of the agency? How has its mission changed over the years?
2. Get the inside scoop on your agency. Who has power in your agency? What is the political and civil service leadership like? What outside groups and institutions matter to your agency? What are the tensions and problems that your agency confronts? Are its problems political (difficult relationships with constituents, interest groups and the elected-official leadership) administrative (an unclear mission, or a mission that is contradictory) or existential (namely, that the task it confronts is very difficult to manage).
3. Evaluate your agency according to criteria you believe to be important. Is the agency effective and efficient? Is it responsive to the groups it is intended to serve? It is accountable to the public, elected officials, and its own executive leadership? Does the public view the work of the agency as legitimate? Are its employees professionally competent? What steps do you think need to be taken to improve agency performance?
Picking your agency
You can examine an agency at any level of government, federal state and local. I will even consider a not-for-profit agency if your heart is set on it.
The key is finding the right size (or level of analysis) for your examination. You don’t want something so big that you can’t get a handle on it in a short paper or something so small that you can’t find the information you need to do a nice job. A rule of thumb is, a department is too big, an agency within a department is probably just right.
Step #1: Browse the agencies and find something you like.
Here is a link to the federal government departments and agencies:
Here is a list of New York State agencies (scroll down a bit): http://www.ny.gov/agencies
Here is a list of New York City agencies: http://www1.nyc.gov/nyc-resources/agencies.page
If you would like to do a sub-federal agency outside of New York, that is fine too, let us talk about it though.
Step #2: Start reading official reports and documents on the website. As a first step, find the agency’s mission statement (or equivalent) budget, and other key documents that we will talk about in class.
Step #3: Check for newspaper accounts about the agency. Agencies usually pop up in the news when there is a crisis or problem. Remember to use your free New York Times and Wall Street Journal accounts, and library resources as well.
Step #4: Check the academic literature on the agency. It is very unlikely that you will find coverage of your specific agency there, but you very well might find information about the general category of agencies that may be useful (for example, “Departments of Motor Vehicles”) or some topic that may fit your case (for example, “public corruption at state agencies” or “leadership failure in the federal service.”)
Step #5: Put theories or concepts we’ve developed in class in play.
Step #6: Outline your report, write it up, go back and do some more research, re-outline, etc.
After all this, we’ll call you “The Commish.”