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In August 1965, impressed by Robert S. McNamara’s success with program budgeting at the U.S. Department of Defense and encouraged by members of his staff, President Lyndon B. Johnson mandated the adoption of a similar planning and budgeting system in all federal departments and agencies. With the costs of the war in Vietnam and of Great Society programs accelerating, the President’s decision to maintain a firm grip on the federal budget to avoid the need for tax increases was good politics at the time. But LBJ’s support for the Planning-Programming-Budgeting System (PPBS) was genuine, and it quickly took on a life of its own.
The relevance of the McNamara model to domestic government was immediately questioned by members of Congress, social scientists, and others. Moreover, the progress of PPBS was faltering owing to a what appears in retrospect to have been a flawed implementation strategy. In 1970, the Nixon administration quietly killed it. President Johnson never wavered in his advocacy for strengthening the institutions of executive government and increasing the supply of public servants trained in modern analytic methods and management tools. As a result, his support for PPBS has had three positive legacies: establishing policy analysis as an important function of policy making; the institutionalization of graduation education in public policy in some of the nation’s leading universities; and providing significant impetus to the growth of social research and development in American universities, think tanks, and consultancies. In addition, the faulty implementation of PPBS by the Johnson administration provides a wealth of lessons for those in the Obama administration who aspire to bring about improvement in federal executive institutions.
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