03/08/2013 - With the public seeking more bipartisan cooperation on the pressing issues of the day, The Pew Charitable Trusts begins the new year with cautious optimism—and an unshakable commitment to nonpartisan, independent research and analysis that improve public policy, inform the public, and stimulate civic life.
When Americans entered voting booths last November, they made their choices for the leadership they wanted in the White House and in Congress as the nation moves through the second decade of a new century. But after casting their ballots, voters had another message for the legions of exit pollsters who awaited them: They want more cooperation among elected officials in addressing the serious challenges facing the country and the larger world.
In the days after the election, broad majorities told Pew Research Center pollsters that President Barack Obama and the Republican Congress should work together: Seventy-two percent wanted the president to work with Congress, and 67 percent said the Republican leadership should cooperate with him.
Although deep differences between the major parties on many issues continue to grab headlines, this desire for bipartisan results is raising hope that common ground can be found on policy challenges where strong, independently determined facts can illuminate a path to solutions. That makes the current political atmosphere well-suited to the work of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a nongovernmental nonprofit organization that bases its agenda on solid research, focuses on attainable results, brings together diverse interests around shared goals, and operates in a strictly nonpartisan fashion.
The institution's policy portfolio for 2013 includes a range of issues concerning the environment, the states, public health, the economy, and consumers.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that some of our most important legislative and regulatory goals have bright prospects for bipartisan champions, said Tamera Luzzatto, who directs Pew's government relations efforts and spent more than two decades as a top congressional staff member. "There is a growing acknowledgement on Capitol Hill that the voters expect their leaders to focus less on their differences and more on producing results.
Already this year the nation has seen what can happen when policymakers work together. In January, the White House proposed rules for produce growers and food manufacturers to prevent outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. The rules are helping to solidify the progress made possible by passage of the landmark FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, a significant bipartisan success passed in 2010. Pew helped build a coalition of varied interest groups to support the law's passage, and it continues to work for adoption of several other rules that would codify the act, as well as for resources for the Food and Drug Administration to ensure progress in protecting the safety of the nation's food supply.
On another important public health issue, bipartisan support among federal lawmakers has grown for improving drug safety, also a longtime priority for Pew. Congress will likely consider new oversight of compounding pharmacies, which customize medicines and are largely state-regulated, after a meningitis outbreak last year was traced to a Massachusetts compounding facility. Progress also has been made on legislation that would lead to a tracking and tracing system for pharmaceuticals to detect counterfeit and stolen drugs and improve patient safety. Pew has been working closely with members of Congress and industry leaders who recognize the merits of strong proposals to protect consumers.
Outside Washington, Pew works in state capitals, which have long been laboratories for democracy—places where policy innovations are developed, tried, and tested. Gauging the effectiveness of policy experiments is essential for ensuring the public gets a strong return on its tax dollars. This year Pew and its partner, the John A. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, will expand an effort called Results First, creating a cutting-edge cost-benefit analysis tool to help state policymakers.
This work is even more essential at a time in which about half of all state legislators have held their current office for two years or less. This type of data evaluation tool will help this new generation of leaders make budget decisions in hard economic times by relying on independent analysis. "Now more than ever, citizens expect results from their lawmakers, and they are paying close attention, said executive vice president Susan K. Urahn, who directs Pew's state policy and public health portfolio. "The result voters want is for government to be effective. Whether it is big or small, at the national level or state level, the public wants government to work.
The research, analysis, and coalition building that Pew brings to bear on issues at the state and national levels also drive its work to protect the environment in the United States and across the globe. Pew's efforts stretch from coast to coast in this country, and span the Atlantic and the Pacific, reaching halfway around the world to Australia.
Pew's work with fishermen, business interests, scientists, and conservationists to promote better management of menhaden in the mid-Atlantic that this year will result in new catch limits on this forage fish, an essential link in the marine food chain. In the Pacific, a scientific assessment has determined that bluefin tuna are severely depleted, a finding that this year is expected to lead to the first catch limits for the prized fish. Pew also has worked on behalf of bluefin tuna in the Atlantic, which have been drastically overfished as well, helping international regulators develop an electronic tracking system for every bluefin caught. It should be in place by midyear.
Helping to ensure water quality is another Pew priority, with special attention given to massive concentrated animal feeding operations. U.S. livestock produces more than 500 million tons of manure annually, posing a major threat to waterways, and this year the federal government may propose new regulations to control water pollution from those feeding operations. Conserving land also is on the agenda for the new year. Pew is urging the Obama administration to protect 12 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. A decision to conserve the land, which is part of the largest contiguous expanse of unspoiled public land in the nation, is expected this year.
Pew also will continue its work to establish a Great Kimberley marine park off Western Australia's coast, including new protected areas that would encompass Buccaneer Archipelago—about 900 islands and reefs. The campaign is part of an ongoing effort by Pew across the island continent, and resulted in last year's creation of the world's largest network of marine parks, including a reserve in the Coral Sea.
This ambition to take on preservation campaigns for large, relatively undisturbed and ecologically significant areas on land and in the sea will be critical in the coming years, said Pew executive vice president Joshua S. Reichert, who heads Pew's environment projects. Technology has allowed people to transform the Earth in fundamental ways that were not possible a century ago—through mining, overfishing, and other activities. "There are not a lot of large, undisturbed areas left in the world, and we don't have a lot of time to make sure they stay that way, he said.
The public's desire to see progress—and results—on pressing challenges such as those outlined here, helps put these goals for 2013 within reach. It is Pew's determination to follow the facts and build support for the achievable that leads the institution to be optimistic about the opportunities for success this year and beyond.