Public Policies for Humans by Professor Matthew G. Nagler

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This past summer I served as an Academic Affiliate of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST). A cross-agency group of applied behavioral scientists authorized to advise Federal agencies by an Executive Order of President Obama, SBST applies findings from the social and behavioral sciences to improve Federal policies and programs. For me – an economist whose research incorporates psychological research findings into models of economic behavior – this gig offered an opportunity to see directly how my research interests could be put to real-world use. SBST’s job is an important one. Many Federal programs face serious challenges when it comes to the way in which real-live people interact with them. Websites often present constituents with information about Federal programs that is daunting to read and sort through. Intended beneficiaries often fail to find out about key Federal programs, causing the money allocated to help them to go unutilized or to go to people whose need is not as great. Perhaps you can recall a time when someone told you about a Federal program you should consider taking advantage of, but you didn’t because you feared having to navigate the various web pages, publications, and forms. SBST’s task is to provide Federal agencies the help they need to make government work better for real humans, so that we humans can benefit more – and more easily – from what government does.

The key to SBST’s strategy is to leverage what we know about human behavior. People are not perfect, rational information-processing machines. Our attention is limited. We respond differently when the same information content is displayed or framed in different ways. The accumulated understanding of social and behavioral scientists provides pathways for making policy tools and government communications more effective. SBST’s standard approach is to propose behaviorally-informed interventions, test them, and then implement the most successful interventions. (These interventions are what have sometimes been popularly referred to as “nudges.”)

One prominent example of an SBST intervention arose from the recognition that only 44% of military service members were enrolled in the Federal retirement plan, TSP, as compared to 87% of civilian Federal employees. The trouble was service members changed bases frequently and so never had the wherewithal to focus on TSP enrollment. To boost participation, the Department of Defense and SBST tested having service members make an active “yes” or “no” choice to enroll upon their arrival at a new base. The behavioral research suggests that “forcing an issue” can make it salient, inducing individuals to take actions they intended to but did not focus on. The test led to an increase in TSP enrollments of 8.3 percentage points. DOD has not yet implemented this intervention everywhere, but SBST estimates that when they do the benefits to service members could be quite substantial.

During the summer I worked on designing exploratory interventions relating to healthcare, secondary education programs for homeless students, and transportation safety. These projects paired me with agency partners at the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Department of Transportation. I found I needed to take account of not only the limitations of the real humans who were trying to navigate Federal programs, but also those imposed by the realities of the Federal bureaucracy. The work was not easy. Sometimes Federal agencies were resistant to doing things in new ways. Often the data I needed in order to figure out the best way forward was simply not available. And the summer was short: there was not enough time for me to champion an intervention from start to finish. But I did get the chance to get the ball rolling on several initiatives, and I contributed directly on many more.

Two proud moments for me were SBST’s planning retreat in mid-August and the release of our 2016 Annual Report in mid-September. At the first event, I got to work with my team colleagues on SBST’s plans for the future – what we thought we could best accomplish and how we might go about it. At the second event, I got to reflect on my team’s significant achievements during the past year. Both gave me a chance to get the “big picture” with respect to what I was doing and to appreciate that I was a part of something meaningful. When I talk to my students about my experience in Washington this summer, what I will try to convey to them is what I saw firsthand: that by working earnestly and applying one’s capabilities toward a worthy goal, a person can truly make a difference.

[1] The opinions expressed in this article are my own, offered in my personal academic capacity, and are not the views of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team.

Colin Powell School to Revitalize NGO Initiative

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Photo caption: Fnu Duojizhand, Anasimon Takla, Juan Pablo Celis and Anne Joost In 2013 the City College of New York (CCNY) became one of a handful of colleges in New York to be associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) as a nongovernmental organization (NGO). This year, the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership and its interdisciplinary International Studies Program are revitalizing the NGO initiative.

Since 2013, CCNY NGO has worked on becoming an active member of international civil society and on promoting the participation of its academic community in United Nations activities. CCNY NGO complements other campus initiatives such as Diplomat-in-Residence, CCNY membership in the UN Academic Impact, and the Model United Nations (MUN), all of which are dedicated to educating future leaders in global affairs.

CCNY NGO status opens multiple opportunities for students: from attending regularly scheduled DPI-NGO briefings to participating in the UN Youth Representatives program. Selected CCNY students take part in youth panels, attend NGO conferences, speak at special events, and cooperate with UN volunteers. The school’s Dean, Dr. Vincent Boudreau, acts as the organization’s Faculty Advisor and Johanna Ureña, acts as the Designated Representative.

CCNY NGO nominates two youth representatives and one regular delegate to the UN. They are issued UN Grounds Passes allowing them access to meetings and conferences including General Assembly and Security Council sessions. Students involved with CCNY NGO represent the highest standard of intellectual inquiry and embody CCNY values of hard work, perseverance, and competence. Currently, Anasimon Takla, Anne Joost and Fnu Duojizhandou serve as CCNY NGO Youth Representatives. Juan Pablo Celis serves as advisor to the CCNY NGO.

The CCNY NGO is recruiting for all three positions. Combined with an independent study or an internship, they can turn into college credits and valuable experience in multilateral diplomacy. For more information, application process, and job description, please visit CCNY&theUN.

According to Professor Rafal Szczurowski, at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership who leads the CCNY NGO, the program offers an excellent opportunity for all students, regardless of their major. CCNY NGO is uniquely positioned to promote global citizenship, which is one of the top priorities of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Initiative on Education as well as a key theme of the Colin Powell School, said Mr. Szczurowski.

For more information and media inquiries, please contact: Dee Dee Mozeleski at dmozeleski@ccny.cuny.edu

Making Americans, Making America

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Re-posted from the Carnegie Corporation of New York with op-ed link from the Wall Street Journal

By General Colin Powell - 07.06.2016

The author’s comments were made during a discussion on immigrant access to higher education hosted by Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York. In addition, these remarks are the basis for an op-ed piece, printed in the Wall Street Journal (online 7.25.2016 and in print 7.26.2016)

Many years ago, after I had become a four-star general and, then, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Times of London wrote an article observing that if my parents had sailed to England rather than New York, "the most they could have dreamed of for their son in the military was to become a sergeant in one of the lesser British regiments."

Only in America could the son of two poor Jamaican immigrants become the first African American, the youngest person, and the first ROTC graduate from a public university to hold those positions, among many other firsts. My parents arrived—one at the Port of Philadelphia, the other at Ellis Island—in search of economic opportunity, but their goal was to become American citizens, because they knew what that made possible.

Immigrants - future Americans - make America better every single day.

—  GENERAL COLIN L. POWELL, USA (Ret.)

Immigration is a vital part of our national being because people come here not just to build a better life for themselves and their children, but to become Americans. And with access to education and a clear path to citizenship, they routinely become some of the best, the most patriotic Americans you’ll ever know. That's why I am a strong supporter of immigration law reform: America stands to benefit from it as much if not more than the immigrants themselves.

Contrary to some common misconceptions, neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have lower rates of crime and violence than comparable non-immigrant neighborhoods, according to a recent report from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Foreign-born men age 18–39 are jailed at one-fourth the rate of native-born American men of the same age.

Today’s immigrants are learning English at the same rate or faster than earlier waves of newcomers, and first-generation arrivals are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or cancer than native-born people. They experience fewer chronic health conditions, have lower infant mortality and obesity rates, and have a longer life expectancy.

My parents met and married here and worked in the garment industry, bringing home $50 to $60 a week. They had two children: my sister Marilyn, who became a teacher, and me. I didn’t do as well as the family hoped; I caused a bit of a crisis when I decided to stay in the Army. "Couldn’t he get a job? Why is he still in the Army?”

We were a tight-knit family with cousins and aunts and uncles all over the place. But that family network didn’t guarantee success. What did? The New York City public education system.

I’m a public education school kid, from kindergarten at PS20 through PS39 and JH552, and on to Morris High School in the South Bronx and, finally, City College of New York. New York University made me an offer, but tuition there was $750 a year. Such a huge sum in 1954! I would never impose that on my parents, so it was CCNY, where back then tuition was free. I got a BS in geology and a commission as an Army second lieutenant, and that was that. And it all cost my parents nothing. Zero.

After CCNY, I was lucky to be among the first group of officers commissioned just after the Army was desegregated. I competed against West Pointers, against grads from Harvard and VMI and the Citadel and other top schools. And to my surprise, I discovered I had gotten a pretty good education in the New York City public schools. Not just in geology and the military, but also in wider culture. I had learned a little about music, about Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and theater and things like that. I got a complete education, all through public schools, and it shapes me to this day.

This amazing gift goes back to 1847 when the Free Academy of the City of New York was created with a simple mandate: “Give every child the opportunity for an education.” And who would pay for it? The citizens and taxpayers of New York City and State. They did it and kept at it when the Academy became CCNY in 1866, because they knew that poor immigrants were their children. They were the future.

They still are. Today some 41 million immigrants and 37.1 million U.S.-born children of immigrants live in the United States. Taken together, the first and second generations are one-quarter of the U.S. population. While some countries like Japan and Russia worry that population decline threatens their economies, America's economic future vibrates with promise from immigrants' energy, creativity, ambition, and countless contributions.

Every one of these people deserves the same educational opportunities I had. It wasn’t—and isn't—charity to immigrants or to the poor. Those early New Yorkers were investing in their own future by making education and citizenship accessible to "every child." They knew it—and what a future it became!

 

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We still have that model. But today too many politicians seem to think that shortchanging education will somehow help society. It does not. It hurts society. We need people who know that government has no more important function than securing the terrain, which means opening the pathways to the future for everyone, educating them to be consumers, workers, leaders—and citizens.

We are all immigrants, wave after wave over several hundred years. And every wave makes us richer—in cultures, in language and food, in music and dance, in intellectual capacity. We should treasure this immigrant tradition, and we should reform our laws to guarantee it.

In this political season, let's remember the most important task of our government: making Americans. Immigrants—future Americans—make America better every single day.


General Colin L. Powell, USA (ret.) has served in senior military and diplomatic positions across four presidential administrations, including Secretary of State under President George W. Bush; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H. W. Bush and under President Bill Clinton; and National Security Advisor under President Ronald Reagan.