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Optimizing White House and Cabinet Agencies' Roles in Implementing Federal Climate Change Initiatives

All Authors: 
David J. Hayes
April 25, 2016

Produced for the conference "Setting the Climate Agenda for the Next U.S. President," this discussion paper summarizes the conclusions reached in a comprehensive Stanford Law School report that reviewed the relative effectiveness of six climate change initiatives that required cross-governmental cooperation among the White House (and, in one case, a Governors office) and multiple agencies. The paper and conference were produced in conjunction with the Climate Implementation Project Workshop Series, organized by David J. Hayes, Distinguished Visiting Lecturer in Law at the Stanford Law School and a Consulting Professor with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. For details, visit: http://stanford.io/1S7iRSd

This discussion paper summarizes the conclusions reached in a comprehensive Stanford Law School report that reviewed the relative effectiveness of six climate change initiatives that required cross-governmental cooperation among the White House (and, in one case, a Governors office) and multiple agencies. The paper (and the underlying report) confirm that White House has an important role to play in helping to coordinate and guide complex, multi-agency implementation challenges, and that it has succeeded in doing so in some cases. The paper also indicates, however, that the White Houses tendency to create multiple White House-centric task forces and other, one-of-a-kind management structures with purported responsibility to oversee how governmental services are delivered has, in several cases, degraded clarity of mission and accountability, and led to sub-optimal results.

This paper concludes that the next President should devote more disciplined attention on how important Administration initiatives are structured to produce optimal results. When it comes to implementing climate change priorities that have been set by the White House, responsibility should rest primarily with cabinet agencies that have the budget, staff, expertise and jurisdiction to deliver on policy promises. For implementation, the White House role typically should focus on facilitating coordination among cabinet secretaries and, where appropriate, assisting them in developing common, cross-agency implementation programs and tools.