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My pitch for this episode is simple: Jennifer Pahlka has written one of the best policy books I’ve ever read.
Pahlka served as deputy chief technology officer in the Obama White House, and she’s the founder and a former executive director of Code for America, a nonprofit that works to enhance government digital services. Over the course of her career, Pahlka has become obsessed with an area of policy that is too often ignored by policymakers: implementation. She was part of the effort to rescue HealthCare.gov in 2013 and was tapped by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020 to help fix California’s unemployment insurance system as it buckled under the weight of the Covid response.
It has become a common refrain that the U.S. government is often terrible at delivering even basic services. But Pahlka’s new book — “Recoding America: Why Government Is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better” — puts forward a deeper theory of why government services are so awful, how policy implementation so often goes awry and what it would take to fix those systems so that government could better live up to its promises. It’s an argument that anyone who cares about government in the 21st century needs to take seriously.