Horrors of Implementation

South of the Suwannee is an excellent blog on Southern history and politics. And, for all that those of us in South Florida joke that “you have to go North to get to the South,” or “Miami is New York's sixth borough,” the fact remains that much of Florida, and much of its government, is Southern or at least Southern-like.

Today, South of the Suwannee offeres The Harvest of Shame Continues, which includes a pointer to a St. Petersburg Times column on how the state bought up agricultural land for $120 million to prevent agricultural run-offs that had destroyed a lake.

Closing down the farming meant throwing 2,500 very poor people out of work. The state set up a $5 million fund to help them — but implemented the program in a way that ensured almost none got any money, or indeed any help. Local officials instead diverted the money to other projects that don't have anything to do with helping the farmworkers.

Years ago Aaron Wildavsky and Jeffrey Pressman taught us that Implementation is everything. The full title of their book is “Implementation : how great expectations in Washington are dashed in Oakland : or, why it's amazing that federal programs work at all, this being a saga of the Economic Development Administration as told by two sympathetic observers who seek to build morals on a foundation of ruined hopes”. Most of what they wrote is still just as true today; if anything there's less shame about it all as government has been so delegitimated.

In the same vein, today's Miami Herald weighs in with another installment of a long-running local scandal—the failure to do much of anything for our worst neighborhood, Overtown. There, however, at least half the problem seems to be that the private parties relied on by the government just somehow never got around to spending the money in the ways that they promised. Real money has been spent on Overtown, some $70 million over the years, but almost none of this spending has resulted in any actual tangible changes in Overtown:

  • “Almost every investor who got a city loan to rehabilitate multifamily housing in the past 20 years went into default. Some of those rehabilitated buildings have now been demolished, and the city has had mixed results in recovering its money.
  • “The city's Community Redevelopment Agency, charged with reviving parts of the historic black community, has spent almost $35 million in the past decade without financially spearheading a single major housing development. Only five of its 36 proposed projects have been completed.
  • “St. John Community Development Corp., one of the largest nonprofit builders and property owners in Overtown, has not completed a single low-income housing unit during the past 10 years and is not expected to finish any new housing projects before 2004. In the past decade, the city gave St. John $1.7 million in funding for its projects, but the corporation spent only about $300,000 before the city pulled the money, city records show.”

I guess that means we are reaching Stage Four of the six stages of implementation. The six stages, of course, are:

  1. Wild Enthusiams
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Confusion
  4. Search for the Guilty
  5. Punishment of the Innocent
  6. Promotion of the Incompetent
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