Courses in DC Essay

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Government and Business in the New Economic and Political Reality: How Washington Really Works
Instructor: Charles Bartsch, M.A.
“Change” characterizes the current economic and political climate in the U.S.–as we face a contentious political environment, an unsettled economic situation here, and continuing economic challenges from abroad. The extent to which all sectors–public, private, and non-profit–play their most suitable role will determine how well the nation competes in the new economic and political reality; how Washington chooses to “really work” will influence this outcome.
Today, “competitiveness” is a key cross-cutting and cross-sectoral concern, pursued by private companies yet strongly influenced by diverse federal programs and policies proposed by the President, adopted by Congress, and carried out by federal agencies. With the nation facing a fragile economic recovery, and also a debt and spending crisis, the way in which “Washington really works” takes on new urgency. Yet to an unprecedented degree, rhetoric has undermined the ability of key Washington institutions to address problems–ranging from manufacturing investment disincentives to social service needs–and to define and implement practical solutions based on collaboration and mutual efforts.
How can we sort out the rhetoric from reality? This course examines a range of evolving public policies being proposed and implemented by Congress and the Obama Administration. Against the backdrop of the “capital city,” and based on their own experiences, course participants will explore timely, pressing questions, sorting through the rhetoric to get at the real content of the issues: how effective has the Obama Administration been in addressing our current economic challenges, and what else can be done? What innovations and “next steps” are President Obama and the politically divided Congressional leadership considering? What is the appropriate role of the private sector in rebuilding the economy, restoring communities, and creating jobs? How can the public sector best support these efforts? How can the ongoing “fiscal cliff” crisis the country faced in 2013 be avoided in the future? What will be the impact of the ongoing political brinksmanship on all of this?
This course unfolds not as an economics class, but as a sophisticated, current events seminar that explores the challenges of Washington and its role in the new economic and business reality in three ways. First, it examines the powers, areas of influence, and traditional roles of key government areas: executive branch policy and program offices, Congress, and federal regulatory and implementing agencies. Second, it examines the basic elements of the nation’s “competitiveness” framework that influence the climate of change: the educational system (especially K-12 in the context of the No Child
Left Behind Act); workforce skills and training (as influenced by trends in technology and outsourcing); and the financial climate for U.S. companies (such as tax issues and how public programs influence private investment). Third, students will focus on the role of the federal government in meeting the concerns and opportunities of each element–sorting through the rhetoric to analyze what has traditionally been done, as well as emerging initiatives–and in their culminating course assignments, carried out as professional briefings, explain what they would do better, and how.
Course materials include excerpts from White House budget and policy documents; Congressional testimony, legislative proposals, Congressional Research Service and other issue briefs; political statements and agendas from both Democratic and Republican leadership; report excerpts from the National Governors’ Association, U.S. federal agencies, and non-profit think tanks; and current articles, analyses, and critiques.
Instructor: Charlie Bartsch is Senior Advisor for Economic Development to EPA Assistant Administrator