Policy Planning Requires Listening

Policy Planning Requires Listening


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Governments around the world as well as in states and cities have bureaus or offices which are dedicated to strategizing and engaging in long-term planning. This is true in military affairs and diplomacy as well as on domestic issues.  Frequently, there are lapses and unanticipated events, but their jobs are to “game” scenarios for future crises. There are even academics in a number of the fields in social science who focus their research and scholarship on “game theory’; both at the theoretical level as well as at the policy level.

It is the responsibility of decision-makers to avail themselves of this information so that governments are prepared for every eventuality. For example, in the United States it is common knowledge that beginning in late summer until almost winter it is hurricane season. Governments at all levels anticipate hurricanes and even budget for an eventual serious storm which could do wide-spread damage to a city, state, or region of the country. No one, however, anticipated the severity, the scope, and the damage that Hurricane Katrina inflicted on New Orleans, Louisiana, and the entire Gulf region. What we are learning now, in the midst of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, however, is that there were several federal Government agencies who for a number of years have been warning of the possibility that the country and the world could encounter  Major pandemic.  The fact that these warning were ignored by policy makers and that at least adequate preparations were not made at the federal level to prepare for this eventuality reflects a level of unconscionable neglect of duty by policy-makers.

There are certain steps today that all must recognize concerning the pandemic, many of which might have been unnecessary had the long-term planning been in place. Today–

1.We need to flatten the curve, slow the rate of increase, unwind slowly, and not come off the lock-down overnight.

  1. We need to recognize that we need to find a proper protocol to treat Covid-19 first and then hopefully develop a vaccine to prevent it in the future.
  2. We need to understand that while some parts of the country may have reached their peak levels of contagion, other parts of the nation will still be in their early stages of exposure, so contact between these areas needs to be drastically limited to avoid a resurgence of the virus.
  3. We need to recognize that the virus has only begun to appear in sub-Saharan Africa and Central America with the likelihood of rampant spread probable, with far inferior medical facilities and support available.
  4. We need to recognize that without a viable treatment strategy in place before the fall we are likely to endure another round of the virus in the winter.
  5. We need to comprehend that the economic picture in the U.S. will only improve when the global attack on the virus has succeeded.
  6. We need to recognize that there remains a likelihood that next year there could be another virus outbreak of a different strain, so all necessary supplies must be replaced and stored, ready for such an eventuality.

This crisis underscores that underscore that all future Presidents and decision makers comprehend the need not only to plan ahead but to follow the guidance of experts in multiple fields. No President, Governor, or Mayor can possibly anticipate the myriad issues which one might face during one’s term in office. They need to recognize that governments have bureaucrats and experts who spend their entire lives studying certain issues and phenomena. Experts must be relied as their work is based on facts, science, research, and intelligence.

Roger Hilsman, for example, who headed the State Department’s Office of Intelligence and Research in the Kennedy Administration noted that his office failed in its efforts to keep the U.S. out of the quagmire of the Viet-Nam War. He had advocated for a political solution not a military one. By the time he was heard, Johnson was already President and the Gulf of Tonkin incident was driving the United States deeper into the conflict.

Decision-makers must be open to accepting the advice of experts. The lessons from this pandemic must be that the nation needs leaders who understand the consequences of their failure to seek expert advice. The United States will ultimately fail if it does not comprehend this necessity.


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