Presentation of the 2016 Davie-Davis award

As President of the NTA, I have the privilege of presenting this year’s Davie-Davis Public Service Award.

The Award was created in 2005 in memory of two long-time National Tax Association members, Bruce Davie and Albert Davis. Both were dedicated public servants who were known for both their intelligence and their wit. The Award honors NTA members who have followed in their footsteps by “serving the public through the provision of insightful analyses and objective advice on issues of taxation and government finance to elected officials, other policymakers, and the general public.” 

Presenting this award is particularly gratifying to me because, although I never knew Al Davis, I had the great fortune of working with Bruce when I was at Treasury, and he was not only a great colleague to all of us, but also a great husband, father, and a pillar of his community.

Bruce was a man with many, often surprising, talents. Not only did Bruce have the ability to make discussions of municipal bonds and excise taxes spellbinding (which, you have to admit, is pretty amazing), he was also quite skilled at home repair and remodeling, and was able to successfully guide me through the process of installing a garbage disposal in my kitchen sink (which, it turns out, is not very difficult to do, but—if you were familiar with the extent of my mechanical abilities—you would know was also pretty amazing).

This year’s recipient meets all the award’s criteria and, like the award’s namesakes, he is well known for both his intelligence and his wit. Further, much like Bruce, he also possesses talents you might not expect from a tax economist. For example, I hear tell that Len has an excellent voice and sings in an a capella group.

The early portion of Len’s career was spent in government service—first at Treasury, then at CBO, and—after a short stint at the Urban Institute—back at Treasury as Deputy Assistant Secretary for tax analysis in the Clinton Administration.

Then Len did something government economists are not known to do—he became an entrepreneur. Len was a driving force in organizing the Tax Policy Center, made it a success as its first director, and recently returned to direct it again. Len’s idea was to build a group that did analysis similar to that done by OTA, JCT, and CBO, but provide that research directly to the public. That model has proven to be a success, and the TPC has had an incredible impact on the policy debate in Washington. It regularly produces distributional, revenue, and other analysis which provide valuable insights to elected officials, policy makers, and the public.

In fact, a few years back in this very venue I recall being surprised that the source for distributional analysis used in a lunch talk by an Administration official was—not the Treasury Department—but the Tax Policy Center. Now, it is not necessarily a good thing that this official seemed unaware that Treasury did similar analysis, but, nonetheless, it is testimony to impact TPC has had on the policy debate.

In addition to teaching and being, from all reports, a tremendous colleague, Len has written papers (and books) on capital gains taxes, employee health and retirement benefits, the alternative minimum tax, tax expenditures, income tax reform, the estate tax and other topics too numerous to list.

Finally, Len has contributed greatly to the NTA over the years, actively participating in the conferences and previously serving as NTA President.

So, it is my great honor to present the 2016 Davie-Davis Award to Len Burman.

Peter Brady, President, National Tax Association (2015-2016)