“Did It Work?” A Theme Emerges

September 9, 2019

by Rob Roper

Henry Epp of VPR has been working on a terrific series of articles under the umbrella theme of “Did It Work?” It focuses on the ultimate effectiveness of government programs long after the self-congratulatory press conferences and ribbon cuttings have faded from memory. As the site’s own promo explains, “While we hear a lot about new initiatives or funding when first announced, it’s not always as easy to figure out whether they lived up to their promises down the line — and if they were a good use of public money.”

So far, Mr. Epp has done a half a dozen of these stories that cover the gamut from small programs, like sponsoring a food stall for Vermont farmers in a Boston public market to the $100 million spent on a still incomplete Amtrak line from Burlington to Rutland. Below are links to all the episodes as of today, and they are worth reading, but for those short on time here’s the Reader’s Digest conclusion: None of these programs works. It’s all a waste of taxpayer money.

Bringing Amtrak Train Service from Rutland to Burlington

Promoting Vermont Food Products in Japan

Vermont’s Wood Stove Change Out Program

Hiring More DCF Social Workers to Reduce Caseloads

State Sponsored Vermont Food Stall in Boston Public Market

Burlington Electric’s Vehicle Rebates

This really isn’t a surprise. Government, by its nature, is not interested in the result of a program so much as it is interested in the result of the photo op preceding actual implementation of the program.

I hope Mr. Epp will continue with this most worthwhile series, as it does a great job of shedding light onto the reality that, despite the promises and perhaps even good intensions, government attempts to solve problems both real and imagined are largely a waste of time and money.

Here are are some of my suggestions for future episodes of “Did It Work?”

Universal Pre-K 12 years later: has it saved $7 for every dollar spent?

Act 46: Where are the education cost savings consolidation promised?

The Green Mountain Care Board: Has it made healthcare more efficient and cost effective?

Subsidizing Wind and Solar power in Vermont: Are we really saving winter, fall foliage, and maple syrup from climate change?  

Maybe you have some suggestions too!

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Allen Roberts September 14, 2019 at 12:03 am

Another idea for “Did It Work” is:

1. Next Generation/Workforce Initiative that pays people to stay in Vermont


Vincent C. Hunter September 14, 2019 at 1:08 am

O gracious! Does this suggest that legislation doesn’t have to be “permanent”? …that it could be reassessed on a time table in some orderly fashion? …that legislators could be doing what Mr. Epp has been doing for us? …that legislation ought to be sun-seted. What was the law intended to impact? What evidence will there be of this impact…and other impacts? On what timetable? Law expires on a given date unless the legislature debates the evidence and re-endorses the law. Perhaps this is something we could ask our representatives to consider…as a requirement for our votes.


Hunter Melville September 14, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Years ago Woodstock used grant money ($200,000 if I recall correctly) to set-up an around-town electric trolley. All the local politicians and media showed up to the ribbon-cutting. After several months of circling town empty it was finally discontinued. What a waste!


Wavell Cowan September 14, 2019 at 3:04 pm

Any scientific enquiry seeking to find a solution to any problem in a particular field of study, first considers the question, why does the problem exist in the first place? There can be many reasons conceived as answers to this question. The one that appeals most to the scientific mind becomes the focus for devising an experiment that would validate or deny this favored explanation. Validation or otherwise is only possible by devising an objective measurement that will characterize a successful experimental outcome. In effect a satisfactory outcome would require that a predetermined value for this measurement would need to be attained. Otherwise the experiment would be labeled a failure and some alternative explanation would become the focus for a new experiment. In political problem solving none of these features are to be found. Hardly surprising that most government programs simply shift problems, never solving them.


Terry Williams September 15, 2019 at 11:58 am

Gee Rob, maybe VPR should do a series dedicated to reviewing all of the Vermont Statues that the state does not use or enforce any more? Maybe the series would find redundancies and out-dated law that could be eliminated or at least identified so that redundant bills submitted by freshmen legislators don’t clog “the wall”. This would free up our elected officials, and our judicial system to conduct the peoples’ business more efficiently?


Mike September 15, 2019 at 10:07 pm

If your looking for ways to waste money, I suggest you go to Montpelier. The folks up there are full of ideas.


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