Ex-Reagan Chief of Staff Backs Key Indicator Approach

By Howard Parnell
April 2, 2010

Former Reagan White House Chief of Staff Kenneth M. Duberstein joined the call for a Web-based Key National Indicator System in an Op-Ed written for the New York Times on the eve of President Barack Obama's first formal address to Congress in February 2009.

Duberstein served as Ronald Reagan's chief of staff from 1988 to 1989 and prior to that was assistant and deputy assistant for legislative affairs for the Reagan White House from 1982 to 1983. In his Feb. 24, 2009, piece, "1,000 Points of Data," he expressed support for a bipartisan effort to establish and make publicly available a comprehensive online database of key national indicators.

A presidental speech such as a State of the Union, he wrote, "is something the founders intended to be a serious tool of real, measurable accountability to Congress and to the American people.

"But given today's challenges and the rapid pace of change, a yearly formal address is no longer sufficient to measure the true state of our union. To recapture the spirit of the founders -- and to fulfill President Obama's own promise to provide greater accountability in Washington -- another tool is needed, one that enables all Americans to gauge whether we are making progress as a nation."

He added, "Great steps forward in American history occur at moments when our deeply held values are reaffirmed in the face of changing realities. Such a moment is at hand."

Duberstein's Op-Ed specifically referenced legislation co-sponsored by senators Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., to provide funding for a system of key national indicators across a range of vital issues.

"What we need now," he wrote, "is a Web-based system for measuring our changing society with key national indicators -- in a free, public, easy-to-use form. Ideally, it would be run by the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences, which would ensure it has the best quality of information and is kept up to date. The system would enable us to offer in one place statistical information that we spend billions of dollars collecting but that is now underused and undervalued."

The data "would come from public and private sources of information on issues like education, the environment, the economy, energy use, housing, health care and the state of our roads and other public works."

The Kennedy-Enzi legislation -- The Key National Indicators Act (PDF) -- continued to gain bipartisan support throughout 2009. A simplified version was signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2010 as P.L. 111-148 (PDF).

Howard Parnell is editor and vice president of content and creative for State of the USA.

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