Uncle Sam's Best Move in 50 Years? Marshall Plan. ; A Group of Professors Rate the Federal Government's Biggest Successes since 1944. There Were Some Surprises

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America's costly effort to rebuild Europe after World War II may rank as the greatest achievement of the federal government in the past half-century.

A new survey of 450 professors of history and political science ranks the Marshall Plan, designed to put war-torn Europe back on its feet, as Washington's most successful program since 1944.

The plan, named after Gen. George Marshall (then secretary of State), was launched at a time of growing fear of communism. General Marshall said the program was meant to create a European and world economy in which "free institutions can exist."

The study of "greatest achievements" was released Wednesday by Paul Light, director of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Surveying a half-century of ambitious and costly federal initiatives, Mr. Light says that sometimes Washington failed, but "it is difficult not to be proud of what the federal government has tried to achieve these past 50 years."

"Name a significant domestic or foreign problem ... and the federal government made some effort to solve it," he says.

Light's research explored more than 500 major federal laws. Some, like efforts to control immigration and to reform the tax code, were flops, according to the survey. But many were judged to be tremendous successes.

After the Marshall Plan, the greatest achievements included expanding the right to vote, promoting equal access to public facilities, reducing disease, and lessening workplace discrimination.

This list comes with a cautionary note from Light. Of the 230 historians and 220 political scientists surveyed, 82 percent were either Democrats or independents who leaned Democratic. They were also mostly male (77 percent) and white (90 percent).

This mixture "mirrors the current face of the American professorate," the study reports, but it is obviously not a balanced cross-section of America's population. Yet in comparing responses from professors included in the study - whether conservatives or liberals - there was generally wide agreement about what was important, and what constituted success. …