Secretary of Hope

The Progressive Government Institute dares to dream of a better government

| March / April 2004

Not satisfied with the state of the union? Frustrated with the fact that some of the most influential roles in government are not elected positions but appointed ones? Think that someone else could do a better job as Attorney General or Secretary of Education? The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Progressive Government Institute (PGI) shares your concerns and wants your suggestions. How does holistic doctor Andrew Weil sound for Surgeon General? What about Jimmy Carter as Secretary of State?

Sound like a dream? Well, it is -- it's the 'Dream Cabinet' set up online as part of the PGI's Progressive Shadow Government project. The Shadow Government is an advocacy project that promotes progressive political values; the Dream Cabinet is an opportunity for anyone to nominate a person (famous or not-so-famous) as an alternative to whoever is in office today. Web site visitors can also nominate alternative heads of executive branch and other federal agencies; they can compare the records and positions of current federal office holders (say, Ann Veneman, Secretary of Agriculture ) with those of progressive nominees -- Texas populist Jim Hightower, for example. The result? Concrete alternatives to government as we know it in 2004.

The PGI was launched in 2003 to, as founder Dal LaMagna puts it, 'focus on the decision-making roles played by the president's cabinet and the top 1,000 presidential appointees. These are people the voters never selected, but who still have an impact on our daily lives. We pay attention to the power these appointees wield and we promote the idea that the election should be framed around not just who is put in the top spot, but the entire cabinet.'

To do this, the PGI goes well beyond promoting alternative officeholders. It recruits what it calls 'progressive experts' who follow the work of current appointees and offer informal critiques; it compiles lists of the president's executive orders, keeps current with appointees' decisions and actions, and publishes an online newsletter, The Reformer. In addition, visitors to the Web site ( can become members, receive alerts about impending agency actions, and express their opinions directly to the agencies involved. It's in service of the PGI's hopeful slogan: 'A better government is out there.'