As deputy assistant secretary for program coordination, and later as assistant secretary for planning and evaluation, at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1966 to 1969, Rivlin was an early advocate of systems analysis, which had been introduced by Robert McNamara at the Department of Defense as PPBS (planning-programming-budgeting-system).
While Rivlin brushes aside the jargon, she digs into the substance of systematic analysis and a 'quiet revolution in government. In an evaluation of the evaluators, she issues mixed grades, pointing out where analysts had been helpful in finding solutions and where—because of inadequate data or methods—they had been no help at all.
Systematic Thinking for Social Action offers important insights for anyone interested in working to find the smartest ways to allocate scarce funds to promote the maximum well-being of all citizens.
Under her plan, the federal government would eliminate most of its programs in education, housing, highways, social services, economic development, and job training, enabling it to move the federal budget from deficit toward surplus. States would pick up these responsibilities, carrying out a "productivity agenda" to revitalize the American economy. Common shared taxes would give the state adequate revenues to carry out their tasks and would reduce intrastate competition and disparities. The federal government would be freer to deal with increasingly complex international issues and would retain responsibility for programs requiring national uniformity. A primary federal job would be the reform of health care financing to ensure control of costs and to mandate basic insurance coverage for everyone.
Published in the summer of 1992, Reviving the American Dream was read by presidential candidate Bill Clinton; by year's end, President Clinton appointed its author, Alice Rivlin, as deputy budget director. Today, the ideal in Rivlin's book—and Rivlin herself—are having an impact inside the administration.
Selected as one of Choice magazine's Outstanding Books of 1993