Get access

The Duty to Take Care: President Obama, Public Administration, and the Capacity to Govern


Phillip J. Cooper is a professor of public administration in the Mark O. Hatfi eld School of Government at Portland State University. His books include By Order of the President: The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action, The War Against Regulation: From Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, Governing By Contract: Challenges and Opportunities for Public Managers, Public Law and Public Administration (4th ed., with Claudia María Vargas), Sustainable Development in Crisis Conditions: Challenges of War, Terrorism, and Civil Disorder, and Implementing Sustainable Development: From Global Policy to Local Action. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.


President Barack Obama inherited many challenges as he entered the White House. One of the most important obligations he faced was the constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Meeting that commitment has been rendered more difficult because Obama seems not to have recognized that the people and organizations of the executive branch are facing a crisis in the capacity to govern. This essay argues that no matter how talented President Obama may be in public policy or on the stump, he likely will not accomplish his constitutional duty unless he engages that capacity crisis.