July 14, 2014

A Cascade of Failures

NYU Wagner professor Paul C. Light will present his new Brookings Institution research paper on recent government failures such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 financial collapse, healthcare.gov, and the Veterans Affairs wait list scandal. Titled “A Cascade of Failures: Why Government Fails, and How to Stop It,” the paper examines the contributors to 41 highly visible failures since 2001, and offers recommendations for increasing the odds of success. Professor Light will offer his predictions on the next crisis among the federal agencies.  

NYU Wagner


Paul Light

Paul Light


Dr. Paul C. Light is NYU Wagner's Paulette Goddard Professor of Public Service and founding principal investigator of the Global Center for Public Service, 

According to Professor Light, the VA scandal is yet another sign that the recent cascade of federal government failures continues to accelerate. Just when one break-down recedes from the headlines, another pops up, often in a totally unexpected place. Federal failures have become so common that they are less of a shock to the public and more of an expectation. The question is no longer if government will fail every few months, but where. And the answer is “anywhere at all.”

Professor Light’s research answers four questions about federal government failures:

• Where did government fail?
• Why did government fail?
• Who caused the failure?
• What can be done to fix the underlying problems?

Professor Light will present the key findings of his research, recent patterns that suggest the cascade of government failures is accelerating at a record pace, and suggestions for immediate action. Professor Light will also discuss the role of Democrats, Republicans, and polarization in the rising number of what he calls “predictably unpredictable” failures.