Implementation: How Great Expectation in Washington are Dashed in Oakland; or, Why It’s Amazing that Federal Programs Work at All

Wildavsky, Aaron and Jeffrey Pressman. Implementation: How Great Expectations in Washington are Dashed in Oakland; or, Why It's Amazing That Federal Programs Work At All. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1973.

“Very few case studies are interesting except to those who have been involved in the case, but this book is a delightful and worthwhile exception. Although Pressman and Wildavsky focus on the efforts of the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to create jobs for the hard-core unemployed in Oakland, the principles and lessons to be learned, not the particular case, merit close attention. As the authors show, EDA’s attempts to implement policy in Oakland suffered setbacks that were not only costly but typical of the problems encountered in “co-operative” federal-local projects.

Neglecting the policy creation and funding stages, the authors focus exclusively on the problems and frustrations that accompany efforts to implement public policy and conclude that, even under normal circumstances, the obstacles are so numerous that it is incredible that federal programs are ever implemented. Using easily understood statistics and noting that every program has several “decision points” and a “clearance” must be obtained at every potentially fatal juncture, they calculate that, even under near optimal conditions, the probability of program success sharply decreases as the number of clearance points increases. People never seem to understand why so many government projects turn sour. But after reading this book, the reader will no longer wonder why programs fail, but how any ever succeed.”

– From a book review in: The Journal of Politics, Vol. 36, No., 4, 1974.