This month, two blue-ribbon commissions were to have issued important reports on critical economic policy issues. One of these two commissions, the President’s fiscal responsibility commission, surpassed all reasonable expectations, delivering an 11-7 vote in favor of a bold, controversial package of recommendations. The other, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) is essentially disintegrating, a majority of its members having refused even to comply with its statutory reporting deadline. The divergent fates of the two commissions represent a case study in what makes commissions succeed or fail.
As a former Executive Director myself of a presidential commission – unfortunately, one that did not see its recommendations enacted into law – I am sometimes asked to analyze the factors that enable a commission to succeed. To understand those, we must define what constitutes “success.”