11/22/2013 02:55 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

What Washington's leaders have forgotten

Elaine C. Kamarck is the founding director of the Brookings Institution's newly minted Center for Effective Public Management, which will focus on identifying and solving political and governance challenges in 21st century America. Kamarck, an expert on government innovation and reform in the United States, created the National Performance Review, the largest government reform effort in the last half of the 20th century. She spoke about challenges facing the federal government with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up their Center for Government Leadership.

Q. What prompted your interest in government and public service?

A. My father was a career civil servant at the Social Security Administration during a time when there was a new rush of enthusiasm for the government. He really believed in the government and its mission, and that sentiment passed on to me quite powerfully. In fact, my father wrote the training manual for Medicare in 1965. He used me to see if he was writing clearly enough, so I'm pretty sure that I was the only 15-year old in America who actually knew how to calculate Medicare benefits in 1965.

Q. What are the top goals for the Center for Effective Public Management?

A. The top goal of the organization is to bring management issues into the political conversation. We would like to marry some political insight with policy and management objectives, because that's not done enough. Looking at the cluster of organizations around Washington, you can see that there are policy organizations and then there are government management organizations. We believe that the best policy in the world will not be any good if you don't get the politics to work with it. I'm hoping we can open a big conversation on those issues in the next year as we get ourselves off the ground.