The Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies (CCPS) at the School of Public Affairs (SPA) took a giant, and historic, step Wednesday on the international government policy scene.
Dr. James A. Thurber, distinguished professor at SPA and director of CCPS, facilitated an agreement between American University and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to advise on research that impacts lobbying, ethics and corruption around the world.
The memo of understanding, or MOU, is believed to be the first such agreement with a research university, according to Thurber, who nurtured the relationship with OECD through his years of work with CCPS, which he founded in 1979.
"I'm very pleased with this," Dr. Thurber said at the signing ceremony. "We are all very careful and we're all realistic about what this is, and think that's important.
"Hopefully, " he added, "this will turn into an extensive research collaboration...and, of course, (that includes) training and education on ethics, but also training about how to teach people about quality lobbying and advocacy."
Founded in 1961, the OECD is an international organization of 34 democratic countries—and more than 70 non-member countries—that's designed to stimulate economic progress and world trade. Located in Paris, the forum is recognized as a valuable source of policy analysis and internationally comparable statistical, economic and social data.
Thurber said the agreement with OECD "sort of built up over the years with (CCPS) getting a reputation about lobbying, training and research. I worked with Obama on lobbying reform directly when he was a senator; they knew about that. I worked with lobbying reform in Brussels (with the European Union); they know about that."
Dignitaries on hand for the special ceremony included AU Provost Scott Bass; U.S. Ambassador to OECD and former Rep. Connie Morella, R-Md.; William Danvers, deputy secretary-general of OECD; School of Public Affairs Dean Barbara Romzek; Candice Nelson, academic director of the Campaign Management Institute; and Pat Griffin, academic director of the Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute for CCPS and one of Thurber's main collaborators.
"We're looking forward to collaborating with Pat, Jim and the dean...and the provost on a range of issues but certainly the [MOU] we signed today, (which includes) working on lobbying and other issues of good governance," OECD’s Danvers said.
Bass said he especially was proud of the faculty and Dean Romzek for making the agreement possible.
"This is a partnership with one of the finest world organizations (that's) interested in a thoughtful approach to the topic of corruption (and) lobbying with appropriate communication...to clarify some of those rules in the world dialogue," he said.
Morella joked that it took a while for the agreement to materialize, but it was well worth the wait.
"I've often said, half kiddingly, that OECD could well have a mascot of a turtle," Morella said. "When I say that, people say, 'Oh, you're from Maryland; that's why...the Terps.' But the turtle moves slowly but gets to his destination. It has a hard shell and it sticks its neck out. And in many ways, OECD does that."
Romzek said the MOU better positions SPA in its plan to develop strategic partnerships.
"We're delighted to see this agreement come to fruition because it's part of our three-year plan to partner with capstone organizations globally. This agreement recognizes the important political work CCPS has done for years," she said. "Jim Thurber and his team do outstanding work and this is an opportunity for the world to share in that. We are extremely proud."
Under Thurber's direction, CCPS biannually has organized the Campaign Management Institute and the Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute over the past two decades. He also was the principal investigator of a seven-year grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to study campaign conduct.
Thurber is the author of numerous books and more than 80 articles and chapters that range from congressional-presidential relations and congressional reform to ethics and campaigns/elections. His latest books: Rivals for Power (5th edition) and Campaigns and Elections American Style (4th edition).
Thurber often provides commentary on national TV and radio programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America and National Public Radio.