Essay Questions

  • What is “public policy”? Why is it so important to the work of government?
  • How do items get on the (figurative) policy agenda? Think of an issue you care about. How is it currently framed in national discussions?
  • Why does policy formation—translating a topic from “good idea” into a bill ready for a congressional vote—take so long?
  • What is the difference between an ex ante and ex post policy evaluation? How are both useful in helping shape a government program?
  • Why are our largest entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—so expensive?
  • If you could change any aspect of the American policy-making process, what would it be? What qualities characterize successful policy entrepreneurs?
  • Describe the eight steps to successful policy reform.


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public policy essay questions

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U-M Social Media

Top 20: public policy topics.

public policy essay questions

This list comprises, in no particular order, the topics on the mind of faculty, staff, and students as we finish up 2019 and head into a new decade and the 2020 elections. Many experts at Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy experts weighed in on these topics this year. 

Michigan leaders worried about possible effects of next recession “While no one knows when the next recession will hit or how bad it will be, the economic growth clock is ticking.” – Thomas Ivacko, associate director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy

Stevenson debunks five myths about the Fed in Washington Post “When we look at the data, we are not seeing how inflation and unemployment move in response to market forces; instead, we are seeing the Fed actively trying to keep inflation near its 2 percent target. So the relationship now reflects the Fed either undershooting or overshooting its rate.”  – Betsey Stevenson, professor of public policy; professor of economics

10% Happier: Stevenson and Wolfers talk wealth inequality and redistribution on NewsHour

“Rich people are happier than poor people, and that’s true all the way along economic distribution.” – Justin Wolfers, professor of public policy; professor of economics

“Increases in income keep making you happier, but they’re making you happier at a decreasing rate.” – Betsey Stevenson, professor of public policy; professor of economics

Wolfers’ take on Trump’s tariffs “The United States is still less protectionist than it has been throughout most of its history or than most nations are today.” – Justin Wolfers, professor of public policy; professor of economics


Democratic presidential candidates’ climate change proposals may be unrealistic, says Rabe “What this would look like, and how this would work, probably hasn’t been talked about at the dinner table in most communities. What we don’t know is whether the nominee will stay the course and keep the plan, or hedge and dial back.” – Barry Rabe, Ira and Nicki Harris Family Professor of Public Policy; Arthur F. Thurnau Professor; professor of environmental policy; professor of political science; professor of the environment

Utilities have little financial incentive to plug methane leaks “The overwhelming lesson we’ve taken from doing this research is that the price regulations we’ve relied on in the natural gas distribution sector are out of date, given our current understanding of methane’s role in climate change.” – Catherine Hausman, assistant professor of public policy

Alternative Energy

Sarah Mills work featured on This is Michigan “Wind turbines fit better in some communities than others. It depends on what their development goals are.” – Sarah Mills, senior project manager at the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy

Artificial Intelligence

Parthasarathy talks algorithms place in the criminal justice system “Technology is not neutral. Even when we think about how data is collected and stored and how we measure things, even that in and of itself has a bias.” – Shobita Parthasarathy, professor and director of the Science, Technology and Public Policy Program


Cyberattacks are major risk in elections, warns Ford School PhD “Malware seeks to steal, block or alter data. It’s the kind of code used to steal your passwords or credit card numbers. And it can also steal your vote.” – Ford School doctoral student Nadiya Kostyuk and Kenneth Geers, senior fellow with the Atlantic Council

Driverless Vehicles

Ford’s Robert Hampshire forecasts the future of autonomous vehicles Given the approximation that “autonomous vehicles averaged one disengagement [emergency scenario] every 5,000 miles…you’d need around 50,000 to 100,000 employees, distributed city by city. A network like that could operate as a subscription service, or it could be a government entity, similar to today’s air traffic control system.” – Robert Hampshire, associate professor of public policy and a research associate professor in both the U-M Transportation Research Institute’s (UMTRI) Human Factors group and Michigan Institute for Data Science (MIDAS)

Current Political Environment

Axelrod talks “don’t fall into the zero-sum trap” and other lessons on podcast “The biggest lesson for me is don’t fall into the zero-sum trap. Whenever we think of things as a rivalry or a competition, we tend to immediately fall into the simple-minded thinking that it’s a zero-sum game…it’s usually opportunities that are mutually advantageous that are overlooked if you take that approach.” – Robert Axelrod, member of the National Academy of Sciences and former MacArthur Prize Fellow,  Walgreen Professor for the Study of Human Understanding at the University of Michigan. Axelrod has appointments in the Department of Political Science and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

National Debt

Lowering national debt is as easy as 1, 2, $4.95 billion! “The longer we wait to do so, the more burden the current generation will have to take on compared to the baby boomer generation.” – Tyler Evilsizer, Deputy Policy Director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) and guest speaker at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy


Withdrawing from the Flores Agreement could keep immigration lawyers in dark, Vieux says “We’re going to see a lot more people detained for longer periods of time in facilities that are not licensed, and significant physical- and mental-health ramifications for the children that we serve.” – Hardy Vieux (MPP/JD ’97), Towsley Policymaker in Residence at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and vice president, legal at Human Rights First

Health Care

Iovan and Lantz discuss their latest research on super-utilizers “There are two major reasons behind the drive to reduce emergency care use. First, the emergency department is not the best place to receive primary care. Super-utilizers use the ED for a number of reasons other than having a medical emergency.” – Paula Lantz, associate dean for Academic Affairs; professor of Public Policy, James B. Hudak Professor of Health Policy

“Many studies of super-utilizers find that health care use and costs go down the year after the intervention. However, a big problem is that we see this even without an intervention. This is in part because the people in the ‘super-utilizer’ group change somewhat from year to year.”- Samantha Iovan, staff at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

“We really want to stress the importance of conducting more high-quality evaluation research in this area. These patients certainly have many medical and social needs that have to be addressed, but the current research literature does not provide the evidence to support claims that super-utilizer interventions that are spreading across health care systems are actual working.” – Mahshid Abir, Department of Emergency Medicine at U-M Medical School

Shaefer warns of Medicaid work requirement risks “This should include the highest-quality experimental or quasi-experimental testing of employment, health outcomes and economic impact. Doing so would set Michigan apart in its commitment to really understanding the full impact of work requirements.” – H. Luke Shaefer, PhD, director of Poverty Solutions at U-M, and associate professor at the University of Michigan, School of Social Work, and Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and Marianne Udow-Phillips, executive director of the Center for Health and Research Transformation

Ivacko discusses opioid interventions on Michigan Radio “If they don’t have someone to turn to or a helping hand in these difficult times, it’s just that much harder for them to try to take a step forward.” – Thomas Ivacko, associate director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy

Levitsky warns of consequences from marijuana legalization in Michigan “Keeping marijuana products away from vulnerable youth will require more vigilance and state and local intervention than when marijuana was banned.” – Melvyn Levitsky, professor of international policy and practice at the Ford School, and Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM)

Ivacko makes sense of the recreational marijuana ‘haze’ If a chief of police or county sheriff feels it’s important to follow federal law, and a county administrator or a city mayor feels it’s important to follow state law, well, that’s a tough place to be for public officials. And so, opting out, you know, is a way to avoid those kinds of challenges.” – Thomas Ivacko, associate director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy

National Security

Ali proposes a commission to fight domestic terror “Our country still faces the possibility of additional attacks that will raise the same questions about why the government is not doing more to stop the violence.” – Javed Ali, a Towsley Policymaker in Residence at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and Josh Kirshner, former special assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security

Scott Atran et al look at cognitive triggers for extremist violence through brain scans “In this new effort, we sought to learn more about what goes on in the minds of people who have expressed a willingness to die for a cause that is based on sacred values—in this case, sympathizers of an Al-Qaeda associate called Lashkar-et Taiba.” – Scott Atran, adjunct research professor

Pilkauskas finds Earned Income Tax Credit helps low-income moms live on their own “The rule of thumb is that it is generally good to pay less than 30% of your income in rent—but in our study, half of mothers paid more than 50% of their earnings on rent. Increasing the EITC by $1,000 reduced severe housing cost burdens by 5 percentage points.” – Natasha Pilkaukas, assistant professor of public policy

Poverty Solutions & CLOSUP new report find local officials believe many Michigan residents struggle to make ends meet “Economic recovery across Michigan in the wake of the Great Recession has been uneven.  Despite a very low unemployment rate, this survey finds poverty and economic hardship are widespread and common challenges exist in all kinds of communities.” – Tom Ivacko, associate director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy

Natasha Pilkaukas’ research on three-generation household receives Michigan Minds spotlight “I’m really interested in thinking about what we can do to help children thrive. Who is in the household matters for kids.” – Natasha Pilkaukas, assistant professor of public policy

Higher Education

Dynarski’s work on school day SAT testing cited in Inside Higher Ed analysis of the 2019 test results “Universal testing alone will not get disadvantaged students into college. But it produces small, discernible increases in college attendance, especially at four-year colleges.” – Susan Dynarski, a professor of public policy, education and economics

Seefeldt offers insight on student debt trends on Michigan Radio “So while [these students] may be qualifying for financial aid, financial aid has not kept pace with rising college costs. So you have students who have more need, but the types of grants and aid we can give them is just not there.” – Kristin Seefeldt, professor of public policy and social work

Jason Owen-Smith warns of “serious risks” when universities cater to an industry “I think a narrow focus that closely aligns university work with near-term business needs is perilous.” – Jason Owen-Smith, professor of sociology and public policy

Alternative Transportation

Hampshire receives National Science Foundation Convergence Accelerator grant Robert Hampshire, associate professor of public policy at the Ford School and associate research professor at Michigan Institute for Data Science (MIDAS), was awarded a $948,182 grant by the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator (C-Accel) to study how all Americans’ quality of life and economic prosperity can be improved by recent transportation innovations like ridesourcing and driverless vehicles.

K-12 Education

More harm than good? Professor Brian Jacob criticizes the continued turnover of accountability systems for Michigan schools I think we need more stability in the political and policy environment…to allow the people on the ground to focus on the actual work at hand.” – Brian Jacob, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of Education Policy; professor of public policy; professor of economics; professor of education


Leiser and Mills contribute to resources for new Michigan Lead and Copper Rule “As part of a project led by the University of Michigan’s Water Center and funded by the C.S. Mott Foundation, we have explored some of the challenges associated with financing LSL replacement under the revised Lead and Copper Rule.” – Sarah Mills, senior project manager at the Ford School’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) and Stephanie Leiser, lecturer at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

Who makes the call? Thacher and Gillooly advocate for 911 operator training “There is a lot of ambiguity on the part of callers, and it would rarely be appropriate to criminally punish them, because there are just so many judgment calls.” – David Thacher, associate professor of public policy and urban planning

“Operators need agency support to train them on how to handle such callers, and protocols about when calls can be appropriately rejected so as to reduce operators’ liability.” – Jessica Gillooly, PhD student

Voter Turnout and Election Reform

Yusuf Neggers discusses latest research with VoxDev “We might think that these information constraints are particularly important in rural areas where you have lower literacy rates and probably lower penetration from radio, television, newspapers, that might otherwise provide information.” – Yusuf Neggers, an assistant professor of public policy

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Public policy is used by the government to create order or to look into the issues that are affecting the citizens of the United States. They are carried out through following guidelines that are indicated in the constitution. A policy is not a tangible thing but rather, public policy is used to describe a set of laws, regulations, and mandates. They are made through a political process. This legal process helps the government be able to create laws that serve a great purpose to citizens. (John, 2013). In healthcare with stem cell research public policies are implemented to achieve specific health care goals, build consensus and inform people (Who,int.2019).

Before a policy can be created, a problem must exist that is called to the attention of the government. Specific events can place a problem on the agenda. The next stage, Policy formulation means coming up with an approach to solving a problem. Congress, the executive branch, the courts, and interest groups may be involved. Contradictory proposals are often made. The president may have one approach to stem cell research funding, and the opposition-party members of Congress may have another. Policy formulation has a tangible outcome: A bill goes before Congress or a regulatory agency drafts proposed rules. The process continues with adoption. A policy is adopted when Congress passes legislation, the regulations become final, or the Supreme Court renders a decision in a case (Birkland, 2014).

The implementation or carrying out of policy is most often accomplished by institutions other than those that formulated and adopted it. A statute usually provides just a broad outline of a policy. Successful implementation depends on the complexity of the policy, coordination between those putting the policy into effect, and compliance (Birkland, 2014).

Evaluation means determining how well a policy is working, and that is not always an easy task. History has shown that once implemented, policies are difficult to terminate. When they are terminated, it is usually because the policy became obsolete, clearly did not work, or lost its support among the interest groups and elected officials that placed it on the agenda in the first place (Birkland, 2014).

Another component of policy formation is the role of interest groups. According to Hill and Varone (2014), interest groups can influence the process in ways such as lobbying government. This is where these interest groups can hire representatives to advocate for interests that the group has. They also engage themselves in election activities where they influence people to support and vote for individuals that are concerned with their interests. Citizens influence the process by focusing on issues that affect the public at large. They mainly focus on environmental and social issues. Due to their large numbers, they are able to hire lobbyists. They use tactics such as litigation and electioneering. Another tactic is the ability to mobilize citizens towards their cause and this is possible due to their large numbers (Hill & Varone, 2014).

Stem cells have been used in medicine since the 1950’s when bone marrow transplants were first used to treat leukemia. Congressional involvement in stem cell policy started as early as 1974. The first major amendment related to the use of federal funds for research involving embryonic stem (ES) cells occurred in 1996.

In 1996, Congress banned federal funding for research on embryos through the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, named after Reps. The amendment prohibited the use of federal funds for the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes, or research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero. In August of 2000, The National Institute of Health interpreted the amendment and released guidelines and stipulations in order to conduct research.

In 2001, President George W. Bush prohibits the federal funding of any research using ES cell lines derived after August 9, 2001, but his policy does not affect research in the private sector or research conducted with state funding. The President claims that more than 60 stem cell lines are still available for funding. Research on adult stem cells is not affected by this executive order.

In 2005 H.R. 810, to expand federal funding for stem cell research passed both the House and the Senate in the 109th Congress, attracting bipartisan support. However, the bill is quickly vetoed by President Bush. The House votes 235-193 in favor of the bill, but the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto is not reached.

In 2007, the 110th Congress, the Senate passes their version of The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act (S. 5) with strong bipartisan support, 63-34. The House also passes the Senate’s version of the bill 247-176. Again, the bill is vetoed by President Bush, and again Congress cannot override the veto.

On March 9, 2009, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order lifting restrictions on the federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research that had been in place since The Obama Executive Order directed the National Institutes of Health to issue Guidelines to permit such funding. The NIH finalized its stem cell Guidelines on July 7, 2009.

Shortly after the NIH Guidelines were in place, James L. Sherley, M.D., Ph.D., (Boston Biomedical Research Institute) and Theresa Deisher, Ph.D., (Ave Maria Biotechnology Company) filed suit (Sherley v. Sebelius) in federal court challenging the Guidelines and the federal funding of hESC research. The plaintiffs alleged that the Guidelines violate the so-called Dickey-Wicker provision that has appeared in every Labor-HHS appropriations bill since 1996. That provision prohibits federal funding for research in which embryos are created for research purposes, or in which human embryos are destroyed, discarded or subject to risk.

On August 23, 2010, U.S. Federal District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth issued a temporary restraining order immediately prohibiting the NIH from further funding human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research. Judge Lamberth’s order came following a Federal Appeals Court decision giving Sherley and Deisher standing to bring their suit. Judge Lamberth ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to win their case when it came to trial.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit stayed the preliminary injunction pending appeal and on April 29, 2011, a split three-judge panel lifted the preliminary injunction. The majority opinion concluded that the opponents of hESC “are unlikely to prevail because Dickey-Wicker is ambiguous and the NIH seems reasonably to have concluded that, although Dickey-Wicker bars funding for the destructive act of deriving an ESC from an embryo, it does not prohibit funding a research project in which an ESC will be used.” Federal District Court Judge Royce Lamberth on July 27, 2011, rejected the claims of the plaintiffs and dismissed their suit. Judge Lamberth’s decision closely tracked the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals panel that ruled on the appeal of his preliminary injunction.On August 23, 2012, in a decision favorable to proponents of ES cell research, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld a lower court ruling dismissing a lawsuit that challenged the Obama administration’s expansion of federal funding ES cell research.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal in an announcement on January 7, 2013. The announcement allows the decision of the appeals court to stand.

Many congressional members in the House and Senate seek to codify the stem cell rules established under President Obama’s executive order, preventing future administrations from unilaterally restricting or eliminating federal funding for stem cell research. Bills such as the Stem Cell Research Advancement Act, which would permit funding for research on stem cells derived from embryos produced but ultimately not used for in vitro fertilization, have been regularly introduced in the House and Senate since 2009, but no legislation has been enacted.

In 2013 The Supreme Court announces that it will not hear Sherley v. Sebelius, thereby upholding the previous ruling of the D.C. Circuit Court’s ruling. “This is a major victory for scientifically and ethically responsible innovative research,” Bernard Siegel, spokesperson for the Stem Cell Action Coalition and executive director of the Genetics Policy Institute, says in a statement.

Also in 2013 President Obama signed the 21st century cures act into law. The 21st Century Cures Act includes provisions intended to assure timely regulatory review of regenerative therapies, including cell therapies enabled by stem cell therapy research.

Stem cell research has been particularly important in advancing the field of “regenerative medicine,” which focuses on replacing, engineering or regenerating cells, tissues and organs in order to achieve normal function. Over the past several years, there has been a heightened focus on ensuring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is equipped to properly and efficiently review the safety and effectiveness of the treatments arising from this rapidly evolving category of medicine.

The language of the Right to Try legislation is simple, straightforward and offers protections for patients and manufacturers. Under the Senate version, an “eligible patient” who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness may be prescribed an experimental drug or biological product to treat their illness, so long as the patient has a qualified physician certify that he or she has exhausted all other treatment options and is unable to participate in a clinical trial. The patient must also provide informed consent to the physician and the physician may not be compensated by the manufacturer of a treatment for certifying the patient. The patient, physician and manufacturer must all agree on the treatment.

In 2018 an overwhelming and increasingly rare bipartisan display (94-1), the Senate has already passed the Right to Try Act. The House version is currently awaiting approval.


  • (2019). WHO | Health policy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].
  • John, P. (2013). Analyzing public policy. Routledge.
  • Birkland, T. A. (2014). An introduction to the policy process: Theories, concepts, and models of public policy making. Routledge.
  • Hill, M., & Varone, F. (2014). The public policy process. Routledge.
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison. “”Twenty years on, measuring the impact of human stem cells.”” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 November 2018. .

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A flooded farm on the Mississippi River.

Policy Topics

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Charles Taylor: How humans affect the land, and how the land affects humans

Using both local understanding and big data, HKS Assistant Professor of Public Policy Charles Taylor studies the environment to answer economic and policy questions.

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Q:  How does your research and teaching connect to solutions to pressing problems in the world today?

I am an environmental economist focusing on climate change, agriculture, water, and ecosystem services. At a high level, I’d say that I’m interested in how humans affect the land, and the reverse feedback of how land-use decisions affect human welfare. Often, I try to find ways to use new scientific and satellite datasets to answer socioeconomic questions.  

My research relates to several big policy questions. For example, what are the impacts of climate change on agriculture. How do we reduce damage from flooding? How do we sustainably manage groundwater? In the U.S. context, I’ve studied the impacts of environmental regulation like the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, farm bill policy, renewable energy permitting reform, and more.

Q:  What research findings have been the most eye-opening or surprising for you? 

I see a growing tension between environmental groups focused on climate change, and those more focused on conserving land. I think this needs to be addressed or it could hinder renewable energy expansion. 

Climate change will have a large negative effect in aggregate, but its overall effects are complex. There will be some winners among the losers. Understanding this is important when formulating effective climate policy.

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“I see a growing tension between environmental groups focused on climate change, and those more focused on conserving land. I think this needs to be addressed or it could hinder renewable energy expansion.”

Charles taylor.

Q:  What do you want students to come away with from your teaching? 

First, data and statistics: I want students to come away with an appreciation for the power of data to improve policy—as well as a healthy skepticism when people say, “the data tell us ...”. What questions can they ask to probe such claims?  Can they tell when a chart is intentionally misleading? What quick back-of-the-envelope calculation can they make to assess whether a claim is valid? How do they communicate empirical findings in a clear and simple way for use in policy making? 

Q: Why Harvard Kennedy School? 

There are few places in the world with HKS's combination of policy reach, academic rigor, and network of world-changing students and alumni. And with the increasing urgency of our world’s environmental challenges, the launch of Harvard’s Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability makes it a very exciting place to be! 

Q:  What else would you like the Kennedy School community to know about you and your work?  

I went to graduate school after co-founding a company that invested in land and environmental assets with a goal of developing sustainable land management business models. Through my work I spent countless hours with farmers, land managers, and scientists, gaining knowledge about real estate, agriculture, climate dynamics, natural resource management, and environmental regulation—both in the United States and internationally. I saw up close the trade-offs between economic development and environmental protection, as well as the complementarities. 

Smart policy is needed to address large-scale societal challenges like climate change, water pollution, natural resource depletion, and ecosystem conservation. I hope my research and teaching can help in solving these problems. 

Banner image: A flooded farm on the Mississippi River by Ed Bock

More from HKS

Liz mckenna: making sense of social movements and their role in democracies, teasing out the disruptive effects of globalization, anthony foxx: pushing cities and the technology community to think about how to help solve public problems.

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Remembering the Yom Kippur War in a Divided Israel

Fifty years ago this month, the jewish state survived a surprise attack by its arab neighbors. some veterans of the conflict see the country’s current political divisions as no less dangerous..

Israeli tanks in the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War, Oct. 17, 2023.

By Michael Oren

Sept. 28, 2023 10:00 am ET

Recently, while walking in a Tel Aviv park, I was approached by a well-dressed, elderly man who recognized me—I once served as Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.—and asked for a moment of my time. “Fifty years ago, I was a tank commander in Sinai,” he began, “firing at enemy tanks only 10 yards away.” Carrying his wounded to an aid station, he saw row after row of Israeli dead. “I see those bodies before me every day of my life.”

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FACT SHEET: Impact of a Government Shutdown on the DHS Workforce

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) workforce is comprised of extraordinary public servants who safeguard this nation around the clock – responding to cyberattacks; protecting and saving lives on land, at sea, and in the air; securing our nation’s borders and critical infrastructure; deploying across the country to help Americans recover from disasters; and so much more. Any lapse in federal funding would disrupt this vital work, leaving Americans less safe as a result. As the third largest department of the federal government, DHS is home to hundreds of thousands of hard-working individuals devoted to public service. A shutdown would affect every member of the DHS community in some way, putting a strain on our team members’ ability to make ends meet, put food on the table, and more. 72% of the DHS workforce would be required to work without pay Nearly three in four DHS employees – more than 185,000 people – would be required to continue working through a shutdown, without receiving a paycheck.  Those working without pay include law enforcement officers, analysts, investigators, and disaster response officials conducting work such as:

  • Safeguarding and securing our borders;
  • Processing, detaining, and removing individuals that have unlawfully entered the United States
  • Seizing illegal narcotics like fentanyl;
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  • Preventing and coordinating responses to cyberattacks and threats to the federal government and other critical infrastructure; and
  • Protecting U.S. government leaders and foreign dignitaries.

MORE DETAIL ON THE IMPACTS: Over 19,000 Unpaid U.S. Border Patrol Agents and 25,000 Unpaid Office of Field Operations Officers: CBP agents and officers working at over 300 ports of entry and protecting more than 6,000 miles of border under challenging circumstances would be required to continue performing their vital missions without pay. Stopped Funding to Border Communities and Interior Cities: DHS provided over $770 million this year to support border & interior communities to cover costs associated with sheltering migrants in their cities. Recipients may be unable to draw down on a portion of the funds, and no new awards will be made under a shutdown. Reduced Cybersecurity and Physical Security Support to the Nation’s Critical Infrastructure: During today’s heightened cyber threat environment, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency's (CISA) capacity to provide timely and actionable guidance to help partners defend their networks would be degraded. CISA would also be forced to suspend both physical and cybersecurity assessments for government and industry partners, including election officials as well as target rich, cyber poor sectors like water, K-12, and health care, which are prime targets for ransomware. Hardship for nearly 40,000 Active Military Personnel: The dedicated men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard will only be compensated for their unpaid work if a specific appropriation is passed, unlike all other military service branches.  Additionally, unlike civilian employees, they are not able to file for interim support such as unemployment benefits to supplement their income until an appropriation is passed.  This creates the most significant hardship for the U.S. Coast Guard’s enlisted service members. Reduced Readiness of Federal Law Enforcement: Certain Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) trainings for new public safety personnel and ongoing skills for public safety personnel would continue and have employees provide necessary duties without receiving pay. However, some basic training and most advanced training would be stopped until the government is funded. FLETC training personnel would be unable to travel to conduct expert training, and scheduled law enforcement training programs for state, local, and tribal agencies across the country would be suspended until a budget is passed. This will impact law enforcement readiness across the country. Slowed Deployment of Advanced Security Technology at Airports: On average, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screens 2.5 million passengers per day, exceeding pre-pandemic travel volumes. If the government shuts down, air traffic controllers and TSA Officers would be required to work without pay—potentially leading to significant delays and longer wait times for travelers at airports across the country, based on what occurred during previous shutdowns. Additionally, a government shutdown could potentially delay the deployment of new security technology equipment to airports. Threaten Long-Term Disaster Relief:  This would be the first time that a shutdown coincides with depletion of the Disaster Relief Fund. FEMA would be forced to continue delaying support for community recovery to preserve resources for immediate life and safety concerns deployed in the wake of a catastrophic event—shifting disaster response burdens to the States, territories, Tribes, and local communities. Long-term Impacts to Hiring and Onboarding: There would be serious delays in onboarding, disruptions in critical roles, and challenges in filling positions in both the short and long-term. As of September 18, 2023, DHS has issued and candidates have accepted nearly 2,500 tentative job offers. The onboarding process required to officially hire these new employees would be paused until the government reopens. This is particularly problematic ahead of the holiday travel season, where more TSA Officers will be needed to screen travelers. Visit here to learn more about what DHS does on a daily basis to safeguard the American people.

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The 2023 Pearson Global Forum to Tackle Issues of Disparity

Dis·​par·​i·​ty : The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “a noticeable and usually significant difference or dissimilarity”; first used in 1571, the word, borrowed from Latin, combines dis­- with the concept of parity, implying that some things are not equal. Disparity : a thin line that divides human realities, and the theme of the 2023 Pearson Global Forum , the flagship annual event put on by The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts at the Harris School of Public Policy.

public policy essay questions

“We see issues of disparity in all global conflicts,” said Sheila Kohanteb , the Forum’s Executive Director. “Often people are not aware of how disparities play out on a day-to-day level in their own communities, let alone on a global scale. At the Forum, we want to call attention to specific global disparities, and perhaps this will encourage people to reflect on how this relates to their local communities.”

“Inequality of income is but one aspect of disparity and is part of an intersecting set of differences in society which relate to power and status,” said James A. Robinson , the Reverend Dr. Richard L. Pearson Professor of Global Conflicts and Institute Director for The Pearson Institute. “We thought that the larger topic of disparity might be sociologically very rich and would perhaps suggest new ideas and connections.”

The Pearson Global Forum, held on October 20, will bring together academics, political leaders, policymakers, journalists, and members of the general public – and will examine the ripple effects at the intersection of disparity and global conflict, and ways to find resolution, peace, and stability for those affected. Participants at this year’s Global Forum will discuss not just disparities in economics and power, but also disparities in gender, justice, religion, technology, housing, and distribution of natural resources.

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The topic of disparity has consumed Professor Robinson’s scholarly work for years. “Most of my work for 30 years has been about the disparity between poor and rich nations,” he said. “Why is it that some societies are capable of generating such better living standards and life chances than others?”

The question of why some nations succeed and others fail at providing stable societies is a central question behind Robinson’s books Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Property (2012) and The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty (2019), both written with Daron Acemoglu, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The 2012 book, Why Nations Fail , begins with a tale of disparity: the difference between what is essentially one city divided into two. “While the residents of Nogales, Sonora, live in a relatively prosperous part of Mexico, the income of the average household there is about one-third that of Nogales, Arizona,” the authors write, describing a vast dichotomy between quality of life, education, and more between the two. “How could the two halves of what is essentially the same city be so different? There is no difference in geography, climate, or the types of diseases prevalent in the area, since germs do not face any restrictions crossing back and forth between the United States and Mexico.” Yet health, economics, and the like remain startlingly different.

Disparities are not always so stark as those divided by a border like that between the United States and Mexico. Sometimes disparities can exist along gendered lines, as is clear when one looks to the example of recent turmoil in Iran.

“One year after the uprising in Iran, I am very eager to hear from the experts on this subject,” Kohanteb said. “The Iranian people have made their voices heard more profoundly than any time since the 1979 revolution, and there is no turning back.”

Last year, a young woman named Mahsa Amini died in police custody after being arrested for improperly wearing her headscarf.

“People are rising up and risking their lives and that of their families by protesting and walking around with their hair uncovered,” Kohanteb said. “The sessions on Iran will discuss existing disparities with a look toward the future and how/if the country will progress and move forward.”

public policy essay questions

The Pearson Global Forum, an annual conference that began in 2018, was designed to convene academics, policymakers, practitioners, and the general public for the purpose of developing new strategies to prevent, resolve, and recover from conflict. Since the second annual forum in 2019, the Forum’s organizers have focused on one issue every year, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, the political impact of climate change, and the use of misinformation to manipulate conflict.

“At this Global Forum, we will cover a range of global disparities from economic and social, to gender and power,” Kohanteb said. “The reality is, everything is tied together. One cannot look at human disparity in a vacuum; it is the cumulation of disparities that has protracted conflicts. “We’re not only discussing disparities – but also how they can be decreased.”

There will be considerations of disparity at the global level: a panel discussion between public policy and economics scholars about social mobility and a flash talk about restorative justice in schools. There will also be examinations of specific case studies around the world: how disparities are impacting Mexico’s development, the disparity in access to water between Israel and the Palestinian territories, and how disparities have grown in Afghanistan since the Taliban reoccupied the country.

The topic of disparity is too large to for one conference to fully address, but the organizers hope it will yield fruitful conversation, with distinguished discussants including Ernesto Zedillo, the former president of Mexico, who earlier delivered the 2022 Pearson Annual Lecture .

Any “noticeable and usually significant difference or dissimilarity” (as Merriam-Webster puts it) can have great repercussions – for residents, for refugees, for those struggling for recognition or dignity. While disparities may seem ubiquitous, the Pearson Global Forum aims to draw in the most influential thinkers to combat this pernicious reality that causes and exacerbates conflict across the globe.

Want to learn more about the Pearson Global Forum?

The 2023 Pearson Global Forum will take place October 20, 2023, at the David Rubeinstein Forum . Register here.

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Faculty Spotlight

James robinson the reverend dr. richard l. pearson professor of global conflict studies; institute director, the pearson institute for the study and resolution of global conflicts, upcoming events, masterclass with eyal frank, application drop in.

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Questions mount after F-35 jet went missing

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How did the military lose track of a $100M F-35 fighter jet?

Military investigators are facing a slew of questions about why an F-35 stealth fighter jet went missing for more than 24 hours before its wreckage was found in rural South Carolina.

As scrutiny mounts of the sophisticated warplane, which also saw a pilot eject last year during a failed landing in Texas, investigators are expected to take months piecing together a timeline of events that began Sunday afternoon to determine why the pilot ejected and why the jet appeared to have continued flying undetected.

After initially saying the jet had been left in autopilot when the pilot ejected from the aircraft, Jeremy Huggins, a spokesman at Joint Base Charleston later told NBC News that authorities did not know whether that was the case and were still investigating the matter.

When Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina asked for the public's help to find the jet, the internet lit up with memes like "Dude, where's my F-35?" and expressing astonishment that an aircraft with stealth mode capabilities could, in fact, vanish so stealthily.

"How in the hell do you lose an F-35?" Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C.,  asked in a social media post . "How is there not a tracking device and we're asking the public to what, find a jet and turn it in?"

What do we know?

The F-35B Lightning II jet, manufactured by Lockheed Martin and operated by the Marine Corps since 2015, took off from Joint Base Charleston on Sunday afternoon. It was one of two planes involved in a routine training flight, Capt. Joe Leitner, spokesperson for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, told reporters, according to The Post and Courier .

Just before 2 p.m., one of the pilots ejected, parachuting into a home's backyard in Charleston, two defense officials said. The pilot, who was not identified, was taken to a hospital in stable condition.

After 5 p.m., Joint Base Charleston posted on social media that a "pilot ejected safely" following an afternoon "mishap" involving an F-35. Officials said they were focusing on a pair of lakes north of the base.

"If you have any information on the whereabouts of the F-35, please call our Base Defense Operations Center," officials wrote.

They launched an intense hunt for the jet, but it wasn't until almost 6:30 p.m. Monday when the base announced that law enforcement had located a debris field in Williamsburg County, a rural stretch about a two-hour drive northeast of the base.

The pilot was released from the hospital earlier Monday, and no other damage or injuries were reported, defense officials said.

Why did the pilot eject?

Military officials could not immediately explain why the pilot parachuted from the plane, but experts and former F-35 pilots said such a decision would not be made lightly.

"The ejection is a last-ditch decision," said David Berke, who served as a commanding officer in the Marine Corps' first F-35 squadron in South Carolina from 2012 to 2014.

"Something has occurred catastrophically where the risk to the aircraft and the surrounding environment is so high that ejection will preserve the life of the pilot."

The F-35B is unique compared to other models, said Dan Grazier, a senior defense policy fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit federal watchdog.

"The F-35B has an auto-eject function," he said. "I'm curious to know if it ejected him involuntarily."

The decision to abandon the aircraft meant it would eventually crash, a costly outcome because this version is about $140 million, the watchdog group said in a 2020 report .

"I don't fault a pilot for bailing out of an aircraft if that's the right course of action," Grazier said, adding that the military will want to know if it was done out of mechanical or software failure, pilot error or something else.

public policy essay questions

Military investigating how F-35 fighter jet went missing

Regardless, experts said it could have been worse.

"We are so fortunate that both the pilot was OK, and nobody on the ground was hurt," said Berke, now a chief development officer with the Echelon Front, a leadership development company. "This is a good news story in that regard."

Why did the jet lose communication?

F-35s are equipped with transponders that allow the aircraft to be tracked. But military officials initially said the transponder did not appear to be working but were unsure why.

J.J. Gertler, a senior analyst at Teal Group, a defense consulting firm, said the rocket motors in the pilot's ejection seat could have been so powerful, they "cooked the electronics, the wires, cut off power to the transponder, among other things" in the cockpit.

He said the transponder may not have been turned on in the first place because it was flying with a lead F-35, which would have had its transponder on. The second jet's would be off to prevent extra noise from interfering with the approach controller.

"That's just normal procedure," Berke said.

Why did the aircraft keep flying?

Military officials will also want to know how the jet managed to keep flying instead of crashing sooner.

Berke said that if there were no engine problems to force the aircraft from the sky, it could conceivably keep coasting if it was left in autopilot.

"If the jet's engine is working well and it was in a stable position when the pilot ejected, it's totally plausible," he said. 

What happens next?

All Marine Corps aircraft inside and outside the United States were grounded Monday and Tuesday to allow units “to discuss aviation safety matters and best practices,” the Pentagon said.

Grazier said the high-profile incident warranted a full investigation to determine whether it was prompted by a simple explanation or pointed to a more systemic problem.

He said a preliminary crash report typically takes about 90 days, but a full report could be another year.

public policy essay questions

Erik Ortiz is a senior reporter for NBC News Digital focusing on racial injustice and social inequality.


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