Policy Task Forces

Policy task forces are the most distinctive feature of our undergraduate program. They address unfinished questions of public policy, often characterized by rapidly changing circumstances. Topics are selected for their timeliness, their suitability for research and task force deliberation, and their public importance. Task forces often blend domestic and international concerns, economic and legal analysis, scientific and political approaches, and ethical and institutional issues. The nature of the problem requires students to go beyond library research and interact with government officials and others actively engaged in the relevant issues. Task force members debate proposed recommendations as a group and combine information from their individual research, guest speakers, field visits, and group discussions to arrive at a set of recommendations on the policy problem.

For more detailed information please access the SPIA Undergraduate Program Guide to Junior Independent Work

Topics for Fall 2020 include:

Remote meeting schedule: Tues/Thurs, 7:30-9:00 PM
Mickey Edwards

The American system of government rests on a framework of separated powers with the governing authority divided between a national legislature which is constitutionally authorized to write the laws and to set both taxing and spending policies, and an executive charged with administering the laws but with significant additional powers. In addition to this horizontal division of federal authority, power is divided vertically between the federal government and the states. One purpose of this model was to prevent the accumulation of power in too few hands but a second effect was to thus force negotiation and compromise to ensure that multiple voices would be heard in formulating the nation’s laws and policies. This textbook description of American governance seems quaint today, with little resemblance to the government we see today with deliberation and compromise too often replaced by rival forces divided by political parties which have no constitutional basis but wield ultimate power on today’s political stage. Major legislation even in the midst of national emergencies, election procedures, the appointment of federal judges, all become fodder for paralyzing partisan conflict.

America is both a democracy (citizens choose their leaders) and a constitutional republic with rules that both empower and constrain government. In this task force we will consider the effects of party-based governance and develop a menu of recommended reforms to both ensure meaningful, fair, and just elections and restore the ability of elected officials to work more cooperatively in the public interest. The results will be presented to elected officials and to leaders in the political reform community.

Mickey Edwards is lecturer in public and international affairs and John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs and Company visiting professor. He was a member of Congress for 16 years and chairman of his party’s policy committee. He later served as an advisor to the State Department.

In-person meeting schedule: Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM or
Remote meeting schedule: Monday, 1:30-3:00 PM & Wednesday, 7:30-9:00 PM
Heather Howard

States play critical roles in health care, as providers, regulators, and promoters of the public health. This has been particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic, where states have been on the frontlines in addressing the crisis. We will examine how states have responded – from expanding access to testing and health coverage to ramping up workforce capacity and supporting safety net providers facing declining revenue due to changes in health care utilization – and implications for the evolving nature of federal-state relations.

In addition, the pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on communities of color, magnifying health inequities driven by systemic racism. We will investigate the staggering toll of health disparities in the U.S. health care system, how COVID-19 has exacerbated these disparities, and potential state responses to advance health equity. Finally, we will discuss the broader drivers of health status and whether and how the health care system can address the social determinants affecting health.

This Task Force will explore these policy challenges and develop and prioritize policy proposals in a report in the form of recommendations to the New Jersey State Government.

Heather Howard is a Lecturer in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and director of State Health and Value Strategies, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded program providing technical assistance to states to improve health and health care. She served as New Jersey’s Commissioner of Health and Senior Services from 2008 to 2010.

Remote meeting schedule: Mon/Tues, 7:30-9:00 PM
Greg Jaczko

Climate change is one of the greatest long-term threats facing the planet. Scientists, policy makers and most government officials accept that the earth is warming due to the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels for energy. The future of the planet may depend on a rapid shift to carbon dioxide free electricity and energy.

Many policy makers tout nuclear energy as the key solution to this problem. Yet, no other means of generating electricity elicits as much controversy as nuclear fission power. More importantly, domestic and international laws, regulations and policies determine the future of nuclear power more than any other energy technology. These factors make the future of nuclear power uncertain, but crucially dependent on government policy.

In this task force we will address these issues and decide if nuclear should be supported as a climate solution. Through lectures, readings and independent research you will learn about the financial, safety and security policies that govern the nuclear industry. Each student will focus on a particular element of these nuclear policies and determine how – or if – they should adapt to deal with the climate crisis. Together the student work will form the basis for deciding if nuclear power is a climate savior or opportunist.

Gregory B. Jaczko, was formerly Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and was a professional staff member in the U.S. Senate.

Remote meeting schedule: Monday, 1:30-3:30 PM
Robert Hutchings

In celebrating its 70th anniversary last December, NATO had already established itself as the most durable alliance in history, but can it survive to celebrate its 80th? Meanwhile, with “Brexit,” the European Union faces for the first time a decision by a member state to withdraw from the union. Where do U.S.-European relations go from here? Where should they go? These are questions for which no one on either side of the Atlantic has an answer.

To provide a framework for rethinking U.S.-European relations, this task force will go back to the debates that led to the creation of the North Atlantic Alliance in the aftermath of World War II. We will then trace the key developments in transatlantic relations during the Cold War and after, including the growing role of the European Union and the halting efforts to build up U.S.-EU relations as an adjunct to NATO, or perhaps its replacement.

Task force participants will examine different aspects of U.S.-European relations as well as their sometimes divergent approaches toward such challenges as Russian aggression, Iran’s nuclear program, trade relations, climate change, and immigration. At the end of the semester, we will present our findings to senior officials at the Atlantic Council of the United States, the State Department, and European embassies in Washington.

Robert Hutchings is Lecturer with the rank of Professor in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and the Rostow Chair in National Security, Emeritus, at the University of Texas, where he was dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs. He previously served as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, and Special Advisor to the Secretary of State, with the rank of ambassador.

In-person meeting schedule: Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM
Remote meeting schedule: Monday, 1:30-3:00 PM & Wednesday, 7:30-9:00 PM
Udi Ofer

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with four percent of the world’s population yet 21 percent of the world’s prisoners. This distinction has been driven by a number of policies implemented over the past 40 years, including mandatory minimum sentencing, the increased use of cash bail and pretrial detention, aggressive prosecutorial and police practices, and a broadening of offenses that are punishable through jail and prison time. Sixty percent of the incarcerated population in the United States is Black or Latino.

In recent years policymakers on the right and left have begun to rethink the “tough on crime” policies that have led to these high incarceration rates and racial disparities. This task force will review the policies that have driven the growth in the nation’s incarceration rate and examine responsible ways to reduce prison and jail populations. It will address some of the most important issues related to criminal justice reform: racial justice, public safety, fairness, deterrence and rehabilitation. The task force report will be in the form of recommendations to state or federal policymakers.

Udi Ofer is the Deputy National Political Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Director of its Justice Division.

Remote meeting schedule: Monday, 1:30-3:00 PM & Monday 7:00-8:30PM;
any in person meetings will be Mondays from 1:30-4:00 PM
Frederick Barton

The United States and the international community continue to search for better ways to end conflicts and build sustainable peace. Almost twenty years after entering Afghanistan and Iraq, endless wars dominate America’s national security reality. Underperformance in the prevention, mitigation, and recovery from wars continues. This task force will review the latest theories, innovations and practices and apply them to current situations in different parts of the world – with the intent of improving pre and post-conflict efforts.

Class discussions will focus on historic and current cases (from Japan, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and beyond), and use pilots, experiments, war games, red teams, mass and social media, popular campaigns, big data and self-directed surveys, and other breakout ideas.

The task force’s foundational model emphasizes improved knowledge of the places and people, integrated strategies, local ownership and catalytic action, and real-time measurements of progress. Classroom exercises and team assignments will enliven the dialogue. A mix of diplomats, military leaders, field professionals, journalists and next generation peacebuilders will be guests, by Skype and in person.

The Junior Papers will apply policy and practice in today’s crises. The task force report will synthesize the latest ideas and report on their efficacy to senior leaders in the national security community in Washington or at the United Nations in NY.

Frederick Barton is the Co-Director of Princeton’s Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative. He previously served as the first Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, as U.S. Ambassador to the UN Economic and Social Council, as Deputy High Commissioner at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and as founding Director of the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives.

Remote meeting schedule: Monday, 1:30-3:00 PM & Thursday, 7:30-9:00 PM
Guy Nordenson

Adaptation to the effects of climate change is particularly difficult on the world’s coasts. About 40% of the world's population lives within 100 kilometers of the coast and many coastal communities, both urban and rural, are vulnerable to frequent floods that are now exacerbated by rising sea levels. For some the gradual changes in ocean temperature and chemistry have also directly altered the local coastal ecologies and fisheries on which they depend. For cities the consequences are particularly severe, and difficult to predict, during storms, heat waves or other extreme events.

These climate change impacts do in some ways resemble past natural and other disasters, or the effects of population growth and poor fishing and agricultural practices. But they are also different in kind and especially in uncertainty. Traditional methods that promote resilience and sustainability are useful but also misleading in the face of the many uncertainties. How should coastal communities make choices regarding costly engineered protection versus managed retreat? What information and expertise do they need and how can it best be provided? What decision making tools are available at the different scales of local, regional, national and global and what policies are appropriate and necessary to affect the transitions and transformations that may be required? What are the appropriate roles of government, NGOs and other groups in this context? How to balance human needs and those of other species and ecologies?

This Policy Task Force will examine the current practice of adaption in places that have been impacted by coastal storms and tsunamis, and explore the practice and future planning including climate change. These will include the US coasts as well as the East coast of Japan. We will examine historical examples (Tohoku, Japan and Naples, Italy) of coastal adaptation to look for fresh ideas for the future. Task force members will be asked to explore alternative policies and planning strategies that may well break with current practices in an effort to think creatively about a very difficult challenge. The findings and policy recommendations will be shared with public sector policymakers, researchers and policy analysts, and advocates working on behalf of coastal communities

Guy Nordenson is a Professor of Architecture and Structural Engineering in the School of Architecture and Associate Faculty in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. He is a member of the NYC Panel on Climate Change and was a Commissioner of the NYC Public Design Commission.