Tag Archives: Bureaucracy

Quick Thoughts on “Obama’s Stealth Startup”

A couple of weeks ago, there was a great article in Fast Company about President Obama’s initiative to bring the the technology used in the US bureaucracy into the 21st century. After reading it, there were a few things that came to mind, so I thought I’d write a post with some “Quick Thoughts” as I have in past instances for other events/articles.

1. The first thing that struck me was this idea that Silicon Valley wants to change the world. In particular, the idea that they “think” they are changing the world, but that they actually aren’t. It reminded me of the penultimate episode of Season 1 of “Silicon Valley,” the HBO series. In it, the show parodies Silicon Valley startups who purport to “change the world.” You can see part of it in the beginning of this clip:

In remembering this episode, I wonder if it was like this in previous generations. Obviously, the technology in previous generations was different, especially because companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft weren’t even conceived. In addition, “Silicon Valley” looked very different in the ’40s and ’50s than it did in the ’70s and the ’80s. Nonetheless, I wonder if there were idealistic twentysomethings trying to create things that would revolutionize the way something worked.

 

2. The second thing that came to mind was this idea that lawyers spend a couple yrs in DC between jobs. When I lived in the DC area, I remember one of the jokes being that DC has more lawyers per capita than any other city in the US and part of that was because of the government. It also reminded me of scene from The West Wing in Season 7 when Josh Lyman (who has a law degree) flies to California to recruit Sam Seaborn (who is a lawyer) to come work with him at the White House.

I think it’s a fantastic idea to recruit folks who are wizards with technology into highly placed government positions to help accelerate the transition for many government agencies. Goodness knows that the VA could use a technology-upgrade. In thinking about this idea, though, it made me wonder if there are other professions that could also do with a “stopover” of sorts in the government, contributing their unique skillsets to advancing the mission of the US government. Lawyers already make the most sense as they’re position to write/interpret laws, but what other professions would be well-suited for short stints in the government?

Scientists probably also make sense. I’m reminded of Patrick Dempsey’s character from Grey’s Anatomy (Derek Shepherd) who was working on a brain initiative. I’d imagine that scientists in other fields could also do well to spend some time in a government agency, but that’s not really outside the norm. Meaning, that’s already a career path that’s identified for scientists. I wonder, are there other professions for which working in DC is not something that’s on the radar.

Applying the Broken Windows Theory to Domestic Violence and Gangs

In my Public Administration class the other day, we were reviewing a case that played a role in the lead up to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passing in 1994. Reading about a man killing a woman when he was supposed to be in jail is heartbreaking. The case leads us to believe that bureaucracy played a role in the man not being in jail when he was supposed to be. I hear that argument, but I think it’s weaker than it lets on.

Anyway, during the ensuing discussion of this case (as viewed through the lens of Max Weber and bureaucracy), I was reminded of the broken windows theory:

The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime.

Meaning, if a window is broken, instead of waiting for months to fix it, fix it right away. In this way, it demonstrates to the surrounding area that this community is a place that takes care of itself — and by extension — isn’t a breeding ground for crime and unsightly behavior. The broken windows theory — on its own — doesn’t really apply to bureaucracy and VAWA. Remember that Mayor Giuliani made a big push in NYC to implement this theory. My thought was: why don’t we apply the principles of the broken windows theory to an order of magnitude above broken windows?

To expand: another reason offered as to why the man in the case above was able to kills his ex-girlfriend was because the authorities were busy focusing on the gangbangers. So, to apply the broken windows theory: focus on the domestic violence cases or those crimes that are perceived to be as lower priority than gangbangers and maybe the gangbanging will take care of itself? I want to emphasize that I’m not judging as to which is more important (gangbangers or domestic violence), but in the way that the priority is given to the gangbangers, I wonder if instances of domestic violence (or similar crimes) were focused on, would that then cut off the “supply” of those people who join gangs?