312-6 The Past Can Be the Key to the Present: Lessons from J.W. Powell's Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Policy Making

See more from this Division: General Discipline Sessions
See more from this Session: History of Geology

Wednesday, 8 October 2008: 2:50 PM
George R. Brown Convention Center, 310CF

Karen M. McCurdy, Department of Political Science, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA
Public policy can easily require 100 years, including long periods of lassitude followed by brief bursts of transformation. Elections provide the necessary but not sufficient conditions for policy innovation, also required is harmonic demographic change in society, the economy, and education. John Wesley Powell's Report on the Lands of the Arid Regions of the United States delivered to the Secretary of Interior in April 1878 is a prototype of scientific influence on the public policy process.

The policy status quo challenged by Powell's report was built on the myths of Western migration tied to the public ideal of private land ownership. Powell's immediate success was the creation of the U.S. Geological Survey, consolidating the independent surveys and allowing scientific advice to be efficiently organized and in service of the public good. His broader scientific advice went unheeded by the entrenched economic interests served by public lands laws, even with a newly elected reform minded President and legislature.

Progressive politics brought like minded modern men to government service. The fight against corruption and waste was waged effectively against the General Land Office at the beginning of the twentieth century. The influence of scientific research grew as conservation became widely adopted in policy circles. The growth of interest groups and agencies around conservation principles reinforced scientific influence through mid century when iron triangles unresponsive to policy innovation ossified.

Powell's policy recommendations for public management of resources were consolidated in the executive through the early twentieth century, and were finally adopted as national policy by Congress in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

See more from this Division: General Discipline Sessions
See more from this Session: History of Geology

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