Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Holding Out for A Hero? The Importance of Time in Achieving Social Equity in Public Administration: Lessons from Texas

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Hannah Lebovits, with Amanda Clark and Ashley Nickels
August 22, 2021

Democrats in the Texas State Legislature made national news when they broke quorum and fled to Washington DC in order to stall a bill that would threaten the voting rights of many Texans. Ensuring the sustained rights of all citizens to engage in free and fair elections is a key focus of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) and therefore a priority in our field. But Texas politicians reminded our country of more than just the precarity of voting protections—they have shown us all that time matters, perhaps more so than ever before. Stalling and swift policy changes are important keys to ensure socially equitable governance. But policy terminations, processing times and ineffective deadlines threaten those protections as well.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in our federal, state and local responses to COVID-19. The compounding crises facing many Americans due to the COVID-19 pandemic have laid bare the gaps in our public administration systems; gaps such as housing precarity, insufficient financial and medical support for those who lose their jobs or cannot work and unequal access to services and family care. Some of these crises seemingly prompted more efficient, effective and equitable governing solutions, right away, such as unemployment benefits, housing support via rental assistance and eviction moratoriums, direct payments to individuals and even specific support for families with children.

However, even these high-quality policymaking efforts to mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 have been inconsistent in implementation and difficult to disperse, with time playing a crucial role. Barriers include application deadlines, processing times, disbursement disconnects and, of course, the termination of benefits.

Moreover, in Texas, we’ve seen an opposing reaction to governmental support and education during this great social, political and economic upheaval, with time playing a significant role as well. We’ve seen enhanced criminalization of homelessness, as people go back out into the streets and find those who are unhoused residing there, just as global temperatures hit extreme highs and lows. We’ve seen the pre-emption of local control as cities across the country seek to enhance protections and manage local tensions. And, of course, we’ve seen attempts to erase American history and make political participation more difficult for already marginalized groups, during the summer holiday.

Political actors, such as the Texas legislators and Congressional Representative Cori Bush, have been using time to their advantage to spotlight critical issues at important moments. Representative Bush’s last minute effort to place political pressure on the Biden administration to extend the eviction moratorium required immediacy. But what about public administrators, and legal officials who do not craft policy? These service providers often do not have much say in the time-bound limits of policies, but how can they work within existing boundaries to promote change and ensure greater access to life-saving resources?

Schools, courts and policing institutions are some of the most significant and understudied organizations that can use time to promote better social welfare. As people are often forced to interact with education, legal and criminal justice systems, outside of their own will, these administrators have a unique ability to use time to advance social equity and provide better services to the most marginalized United States residents. Indeed, Texas provides some insight on this issue, as well- particularly in the form of outright refusal and guerilla government.

Members of police departments across the North Texas area have used their discretion to support those who are unhoused during inclement weather, using those moments to help people find support rather than forcibly pushing them out from under bridges. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins instituted a mask mandate in courtrooms as well; this was also due to the time-bound nature of the administrative court process in which people are summoned to court at a specific time and date and must be able to do so safely. And, most recently, immediately prior to the first day of school in August, schools district administrators in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio instituted masking policies, in direct defiance of Governor Abbot’s executive order in July. And other undercover efforts are no doubt taking place as local public servants, administrative officers and nonprofit officials help their populations manage the complex layers of this crisis within the time-bound restrictions.

While legislators might use time to publicize issues, admins are usually responding to imposed limits. After eighteen long months, the pandemic continues to rage. Thus the importance of time boundaries and the use of immediacy cannot be overstated or underestimated.


Hannah Lebovits, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at University of Texas-Arlington. She studies the relationship between governance, spatial structures and social equity. @HannahLebovits

Ashley E. Nickels, Ph.D., a democracy visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and associate professor at Kent State University. Dr. Nickels is also co-PI of the Growing Democracy Project. Her work focuses on urban politics, local governance, and community using a social equity lens. @AENickelsPhD

Amanda D. Clark, Ph.D., is a visiting assistant teaching professor of public administration at Florida International University. Her work focuses on social movements, governance, and the U.S. policy process. @adclark_phd

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

One Response to Holding Out for A Hero? The Importance of Time in Achieving Social Equity in Public Administration: Lessons from Texas

  1. Mike Ford Reply

    August 24, 2021 at 11:04 am

    Good thought-provoking stuff. Thank you for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *