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.

Topics for Spring 2020 include:

Thursday, 7:30-10:00 PM
Jin Sato

Asia accounts for 60% of the world population while producing more than 30% of the global GDP. The region also is known for its hot spots of greenhouse gas emissions, water and air pollution, forest degradation, and biodiversity loss, all of which may invite large-scale natural disasters.

Prioritizing the climate/environmental agenda is a challenge, especially in countries still suffering from domestic poverty and inequality. It is estimated that China alone has more than 1 billion poor people living under $1 a day. Under such conditions, it is natural that governments place greater emphasis on economic development and infrastructure buildings at the expense of the environment. What role can external donors such as the UN agencies who advocate SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) play in mainstreaming climate/environmental agenda within the context where economic development is urgently sought after?

The overall goal of this policy task force is to identify key dilemmas/trade-offs between environment and development in the context of Asia (e.g., mining and forest conservation, energy development and pollution control), and to suggest strategies to the UN agencies (as well as to the donor communities) for how best to mainstream environmental agendas.

Jin Sato is Professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia at the University of Tokyo, and a Princeton University Global Scholar.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM
Daniel Kurtzer

This task force will examine the attributes of leadership — vision, will, strengths, weaknesses — that contribute to the resolution, perpetuation or intensification of protracted conflicts. We will focus on examples of transformational leaders, those who impact most significantly their political environment. We will examine and draw on academic studies of conflicts and of leadership such as works by Machiavelli, Nannerl Keohane, B.M. Bass, and others. Students will prepare their JPs as a study of leadership in a protracted conflict, and will draw out lessons learned and unlearned. Our client will be the U.S. government officials who focus on understanding foreign leaders.

Daniel Kurtzer is the S. Daniel Abraham Visiting Professor of Middle East Policy Studies in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. He was formerly U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and to Israel.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM
Carol Martin

The dual purpose of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is to advance America’s foreign policy interests while improving lives in developing countries. USAID's Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance (DRG) strategy supports citizen engagement, including through free and fair elections, and accountability through the transparent, efficient delivery of such government services as justice and access to health care, education, food, and jobs. DRG programs are implemented in partnership with national governments, international agencies, the private sector, and local and international civil society organizations. An ongoing debate, however, is the sustainability and effectiveness of this approach in furthering U.S. national security and economic goals.

Emphasizing gender equality, best practices, and lessons learned, the task force will assess the impact of USAID’s DRG development assistance, with a focus on Africa, Latin America and select countries in Asia. Its report will be in the form of recommendations to USAID.

Carol L. Martin served as democracy and governance advisor for USAID at the Regional Center for Southern Africa in Botswana and USAID/Mozambique, and as a senior policy advisor for the U.S. Department of State’s First Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM
Bari Erlichson

The results from the 2019 administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) revealed that reading scores declined in half of the states in the nation, that two out of three children were not meeting NAEP standards in reading, and that math scores had remained relatively flat in most states. As the New York Times concluded, “Overall student progress in reading has stalled in the last decade, with the highest performers stagnating and the lowest-achieving students falling further behind.” These results are particularly disappointing as policymakers have sought to improve the quality of reading and math by adopting common standards and improved statewide assessments.

While explanations for the stagnation in student progress across the country run the gamut from claims that the standards are too high, that too much instructional time has been lost to testing, and that more students are now living in entrenched poverty, others point to early indications of success in states and school districts where educators have been provided high-quality instructional materials and aligned professional development.

Maya Angelou famously said: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” This taskforce will study this theory of action: the identification of excellence in instructional materials that will lead publishers to improve their materials and the adoption and implementation of these materials will support student learning and college and career readiness. The task force will examine strategies, policies, and plans that lead schools and districts to address student learning and educator capacity through the selection and implementation of high-quality instructional materials; how high-quality materials shape educators’ expectations for student learning; and how the presence of objective reviews of instructional materials shapes the instructional material marketplace. The taskforce report will be in the form of recommendations to EdReports, a nonprofit organization formed in 2014 dedicated to empowering educators across the country with objective information about the quality of instructional materials.

Bari Anhalt Erlichson served as Assistant Commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Education under Governors Corzine and Christie. In addition to her state role, she has worked in K-12 education as a classroom teacher, an administrator, and consultant.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM
Douglas Mercado

Population growth, increasing urbanization and climate change put a greater number of people at risk of being impacted by natural disasters. In 2018, 315 recorded disaster events around the world impacted 68 million people and triggered financial losses of over $131 billion. The staggering cost to lives and economic activity demands enhanced efforts to both reduce risks to populations and mount more effective humanitarian responses in countries that are prone to natural disasters. The failure to adequately address shocks precipitated by floods, droughts, earthquakes and other natural disasters will allow more people to fall into poverty and create forced displacement, often across international boundaries.

This task force will examine a range of natural disasters and their impact on societies and individuals. It will examine the roles that a range of stakeholders play in reducing risk and responding to humanitarian needs. Special attention will be paid to contributions to be made by governments, the international humanitarian system, communities and the private sector. Policy recommendations will be developed that seek to better address human needs generated by natural disasters and better equip governments to reduce risks and manage crises.

Douglas Mercado is the Emergency Coordinator for the United Nations World Food Programme in Colombia. He has worked in the field of international humanitarian assistance with the United Nations, the United States Agency for International Development, the Organization of American States and various non-governmental organizations.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM
Anthony Shorris

This Policy Task Force will explore a range of issues affecting America’s homeless populations. Using various lenses on the problem — political, financial, operational, legal, and moral — and the multiple policy domains engaged by it — housing, healthcare, criminal justice, among others — students will be exposed to an extraordinarily complex challenge facing numerous American and global urban centers. Using a mix of lectures, discussion, research, and meetings with leading practitioners in the field, the course aims to offer students a broad exposure to one of the most difficult policy challenges facing leaders of state and local governments.  The premise of the course is that the policy solutions to this challenge are not evident to practitioners in the field — at least they weren’t to the instructor during his years as a government official facing these issues — and students should enter this course ready to explore the issues with an open mind, joining the instructor in a search for answers.

Anthony Shorris is the School's Weinberg Visiting Professor of Public and International Affairs. Prior to that, he served as the First Deputy Mayor of New York City for four years, the culmination of almost forty years in the public and non-profit sectors, including serving as Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Chief of Staff/Vice Dean of the NYU Langone Medical Center, NYC Commissioner of Finance, and Deputy Chancellor for Operations of the New York City Board of Education.

Wednesdays, 7:30-10:00PM
Brittany Holom

What does a perfect healthcare system look like? The United States healthcare system has been a source of debate for decades. Since Bismarck introduced a new German model of healthcare and the Soviet Union brought concepts of universal access to the forefront of welfare, the conversation over how to design a healthcare system has frustrated pundits and baffled politicians. In this task force, we will explore this puzzle by considering various models of healthcare around the world. In studying the political economy of healthcare systems, we will examine the costs and benefits of different types of systems, the complexities of healthcare system design, and possible approaches to creating a system that best fits a country’s conditions.

Students in this course will first study the structure of healthcare systems, including the components of governance, financing, and provision of services. We will then examine the U.S. healthcare system and its most recent reforms, including the Affordable Care Act and the attempts at alternative re-structuring. Finally, we will consider cases across various developed countries, particularly in Europe and Asia. We will look at the characteristics of each of these systems, how they are and are not able to address the most pressing questions of access and quality of care, and how they compare to the system in the U.S. In doing so, we will address the challenges of reconciling the many working parts within a system. These discussions will also allow us to consider how these systems can and cannot serve as models for developing countries or other states looking to build or reform their healthcare systems.

The task force will develop a policy paper with recommendations for members of Congress, World Health Organization officials, and other relevant policy analysts.

Brittany Holom is a Lecturer in Public and International Affairs at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.