Public Policy

Political Science 330

Spring 2005


Dr. Sean F. Evans

Office: PAC A-38

Phone: 661-5237



            President Bush has repeatedly said that the election gave him political capital and that now he is going to use it.  To many people’s surprise, he wants to use his capital to reform social security, the so-called “third rail” of politics – touch it and die (politically).  Yet, we must reform social security.  Social Security does not take your contributions and place them in an account with your name on it and then repay you when you retire.  Rather it is a pay as you go system.  That is, current workers pay the retirement benefits of current retirees. This was not a problem when it was created in 1935 when there were 16 workers for every retiree and the life expectancy was the same as the retirement age.  Yet, due to demographic change and changes in medical technology, people are living longer and are having fewer children.  In the next few years when the Baby Boomers begin to retire, the Social Security trust fund will face a dilemma.  There will be two workers for every retiree and the life expectancy will be almost 80 but the retirement age is still 65.  The choice will be to significantly raise taxes on workers or cut benefits to retirees.  Neither politically popular choices.  Or we could follow Bush’s proposal to create personal accounts that allows individuals to invest part of their social security contributions in the market.  But how will taking money out of the social security trust fund make it more solvent in the future?  Will we raise taxes?  Cut benefits for future retirees?  Make people work longer? 

            This discussion raises several questions.  How does the United States make public policy?  How do policy analysts choose the best policy among competing policies?  What is the best policy?  What are the ethical considerations of choosing competing proposals?  This course will attempt to answer all these questions while also discussing the problems and solutions of major policy issues such as health care, entitlement reform, the environment, education, etc.  We will begin with a discussion of the tools of policy analysis and then apply them to major issues facing the nation. 


Course Requirements


            This class will be taught in a seminar fashion.  That is, I expect each of you to come to class prepared to discuss the readings and contribute to the class discussions.  For the first part of the semester, I may lecture a bit more to make sure you understand the theories and concepts.  However, the remainder of the semester will be a discussion of policy issues.  The discussion basis of the last part of the class should be enjoyable because in many ways this will be a discussion of current events/current policies and how we can improve policy in the United States. 


Readings.  You are required to purchase two books for this class which are available in the Lifeway Bookstore.  The books are:


CQ Researcher.  2004.  Issues for Debate in American Public Policy.  Washington, D.C.:  CQ Press.


Kraft, Michael E., and Scott R. Furlong.  2004.  Public Policy.  Washington, D.C.:  CQ Press.


Grading.  Your grade for this course will come from two exams, two policy analyses, and your participation in class.  Since this is an upper division class, the two exams are all essay.  The expectation is that you can analyze and communicate your ideas and this is one of the best means of evaluating these skills.  Each exam is worth 20% of your grade.  The first exam will cover the policy analysis while the second exam will be issue specific.  I do not give make up exams, unless you have a university authorized excuse, so if you miss the first exam, the final will count twice. 

After exams are returned, you must wait 24 hours before discussing the exam with me.  This serves as both a cooling off period and as a time for you to reflect upon the exam and what you may have done wrong.  We will then sit down and discuss any problems you may have had with the exam, how we can correct this, and how you can improve over the course of the semester.  If I make a mistake, I will rectify that but I do not engage in point grubbing.  As with all my classes, if you make substantial improvement over the course of the semester, I am willing to forget the earlier grades and reward you based on your performance at the end of the semester. 


Policy Analysis.  This semester you will analyze a policy and make a recommendation.  As part of a standard policy analysis, you will:

(1)   define and frame a policy problem

(2)   identify the key stakeholders (individuals and groups) for an issue

(3)   identify the relevant criteria needed to choose the best policy

(4)   identify or create alternative solutions

(5)   assess the outcome of each alternative in terms of each criterion

(6)   assess the tradeoffs between alternatives

(7)   identify barriers to implementation

(8)   recommend the best alternative

(9)   communicate your recommendation and reasoning behind it

Each student will write a 15-20 page policy analysis of a policy of their choosing.  Students may choose a topic of national, international, or local concern but students must receive my approval of the topic by Spring Break.  This project may require you to conduct data analysis on your own so please do not wait until the last minute.  This paper cannot be written the night before class.  Of course, I am always available for feedback and to read sections of your paper.  The policy analysis is due during the final exam time and each student will make a Powerpoint presentation of their analysis and take questions.  The policy analysis is worth 30% of your grade. 

            To prepare students for their own policy analysis, the class as a whole will conduct a policy analysis of social security during the discussion of policy analysis.  Each students will write one or more sections of the analysis.  The sections will then be combined into an analysis that each student can use as a model for their analysis.  Each student’s contribution to this analysis is worth 10% of your grade. 


Participation.  As a seminar class, your participation is necessary and required.  In fact, your daily participation is essential to understanding the material and contributing to class discussions.  Please do not feel inhibited about speaking.  The best means of determining how well you understand the material is through your discussion.  Moreover, an important component of this participation is active feedback.  If there are any suggestions that would help you understand the material more fully, please let me know. 

Finally, participation is more than just attending class.  If you do not participate or participate without having read the assigned readings, your ability to contribute is limited.  For our discussions of the policies to be meaningful, individuals must be prepared for class.  Individuals who make an effort to actively and effectively participate in class will be rewarded.  Keep in mind though that I am more concerned with quality than quantity of comments.  Just merely attending or participating without the appropriate background will earn you a “D” for participation.  For this class, participation is worth 20% of your grade. 


Cheating.  Don’t do it.  Anyone caught cheating will receive an F for the course and be referred to the proper authorities for university review and punishment. 


Students with Special Needs.  If any special accommodations need to be made, please request these and provide the appropriate documentation to the instructor by the second week of class. 


A Final Note.  I retain the right and prerogative to modify this syllabus in accordance with the needs of the students. 



Class Outline


Feb. 3 Introduction – Kidney experiment


Feb. 8 What is Public Policy?

KF, Ch. 1


Feb. 10 The Context of Public Policy

KF, Ch. 2


Feb. 15 Theories of the Policy Process

KF, Ch. 3


Feb. 17 Agenda Setting

Theodoulou and Kofinis “Agenda Setting” on reserve


Feb. 22 Problem Definition

KF, Ch. 4


Feb. 24 Select Criteria – Equity

KF, pp. 152-160; Stone “Equity” on reserve


March 1 Select Criteria – Efficiency

Stone “Efficiency” on reserve


March 3 Develop Alternatives

KF, Ch. 5


March 8 Compare and Select Best Policy – Cost Benefit Analysis

Peters “Cost-Benefit Analysis” on reserve


March 10 Compare and Select Best Policy

KF, Ch. 6


March 15 Implementation and Evaluation

Theodoulou and Kofinis “Policy Implementation” and “Policy Evaluation” on reserve


March 17 First Exam


March 21-25 Spring Break


March 29 Economic Policy

KF, Ch. 7


March 31 Trade

CQ, ch. 14


April 5 Health Care

KF, Ch. 8, CQ, chs. 3-4


April 7 Health Care


April 12 Welfare

KF, Ch. 9


April 14 Education

KF, Ch. 10; CQ, ch. 1


April 19 Discrimination

CQ, chs. 5, 7, 12


April 21 Gay Marriage

CQ, ch. 6


April 26 Environment

KF, Ch. 11; CQ, ch. 9


April 28 Energy

CQ, ch. 10  


May 3 Terrorism


May 5 Democracy in the Arab World

CQ, ch. 15


May 10 Immigration


May 12 Final Exam


May 19 Policy Analysis presentations at 8am