Tag Archives: Government Reform

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.

Is Sunshine Really the Best Disinfectant: Edward Snowden, PRISM, and the NSA

In keeping with the theme from yesterday’s post about Edward Snowden and the leaks about PRISM and the NSA, I thought I’d share something that I was reminded of when I was watching some of the coverage of it earlier this week. Before doing that though, if you haven’t, and regardless of your position on whether he should or shouldn’t have done this, I would urge you to read the article and watch the clip about him in The Guardian.

A couple of days ago I happened to catch a segment of Morning Joe where one of the journalists who broke the story about the NSA, Glenn Greenwald, was on. The clip is about 20 minutes and there’s an interesting exchange between one of the hosts and Greenwald. The part I’d like to highlight today happens towards the end of the segment. I think it was Willie Geist who asked the question and included the phrase, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” in reference to getting the information about these programs out in the open. This reminded me of a paper I wrote for a Public Administration class and I thought it might be useful if I detailed some of the research I used for that paper.

The idea that “sunshine is the best disinfectant” with regard to public administration stems from the idea of government reform. In a 2006 paper in Public Administration Review, Paul C. Light defined four tides of government reform:

All government reform is not created equal. Some reforms seek greater efficiency through the application of scientific principles to organization and management, whereas others seek increased economy through attacks on fraud, waste, and abuse. Some seek improved performance through a focus on outcomes and employee engagement, whereas others seek increased fairness through transparency in government and access to information. Although these four approaches are not inherently contradictory — and can even be found side by side in omnibus statutes such as the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act — they emerge from very different readings of government motivations.

These approaches also offer an ideology for every political taste: scientific management for those who prefer tight chains of command and strong presidential leadership; the war on waste for those who favor coordinated retrenchment and what one inspector general once described as “ the visible odium of deterrence ” ( Light 1993 ); a watchful eye for those who believe that sunshine is the best disinfectant for misbehavior; and liberation management for those who hope to free agencies and their employees from the oppressive rules and oversight embedded in the three other philosophies. [Emphasis Added]

My point in sharing this article wasn’t to say that the idea that sunshine is the best disinfectant is good or bad, but merely to put it in context with some other ways of reforming government. You can decide for yourself which you prefer. In fact, there’s a handy table for differentiating the four:

The Four Tides of Reform

And one more interesting table that shows you how government reform in the US has changed since 1945:

Patterns in Reform Philosophy