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Volcker Sets Up Center to Examine Trust in Government

Paul Volcker
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker speaks at the National Association of Business Economics 2013 Economic Policy Conference in Washington on March 4, 2013. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

Paul Volcker, who served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1979 to 1987, said today that he’s forming a nonpartisan initiative to rebuild public trust in government.

The goal of the Volcker Alliance is to catalyze new thinking and action with respect to federal, state and local government in the U.S. and abroad, Volcker said in a statement.

“Trust in American government has been declining for decades and similar attitudes are evident in other democracies,” he said. “Trust rests on confidence, and too often government, at all levels, in the eyes of its citizens, has been unable to respond effectively to the challenges of the day.”

Those challenges, he said, include the recent controversies involving the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department, which “underscore the relevance that government’s execution of its policies has on the lives of its citizens.”

Public sentiment toward the government has been declining since the mid-1960s, when about three-quarters of Americans said they trusted it, according to data from the Pew Research Center in Washington.

Falling Trust

Public trust fell as the nation divided over the Vietnam War, and the Watergate scandal forced the resignation of President Richard Nixon. That was reversed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Washington area before falling again, reaching 17 percent amid the 2008 financial crisis.

At the start of President Barack Obama’s second term, about a quarter of the American people said they trusted the government to do the right thing always or most of the time, according to a Pew poll. Seventy-percent said they trusted the government only some of the time or never, according to the poll conducted Jan. 9-13 among 1,502 adults. The sample had an error margin of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

The Volcker Alliance will sponsor research on government performance, make recommendations for policy development and implementation, and provide a forum for discussion of ideas and tools to strengthen policy execution at all levels of government, according to the statement.

Board members include William Donaldson, who was chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission under President George W. Bush, and Alice Rivlin, founding director of the Congressional Budget Office and director of the White House Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton.

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