Sunday, October 27, 2013

Just Imagine if Politicians Were Actually Interested in Good Government

You might have heard that the new healthcare.gov website has some glitches. Lots of problems. Politicians have been either piling on or trying to put the troubles in a wider context.

Can you imagine a world where the politicians were actually interested in how well government worked and concentrated on making it work more effectively? Does it seem like politicians spend most of their time just posturing for personal or party gain?

Here is a view of how government works from outside the  bubble of political partisanship. What can we learn from this experience?

A nice smile helps alleviate the aggravation of encountering glitches. Personally, I am waiting until it works.

Clay Johnson has had some strong words for healthcare.gov. Why should we listen to Clay Johnson? He is an expert at large complex computer projects. He was one of the founders of Barack Obama's website during the 2008 campaign. He is not a politician. He is actually addressing how to improve this website- but well beyond this website- how we can improve government processes.

Clay carried on this discussion with Ezra Klein from the Washington Post.

First, Clay said "Generally in technology, smaller products that iterate into becoming larger after they get in front of customers and get used tend to work better than trying to build something with upfront requirements that may or may not work out."

"The second reason is that because of the amount of money involved, government becomes really afraid of failure... [which] leads them to only want to work [with]... entrenched vendors who haven't really had to compete in the world of technology."

A third reason - "there aren't enough people inside government with the technical knowledge to oversee this stuff. In 1996, Newt Gingrich and the Republican revolution took out this Office of Technology Assessment that was kind of the digital brains of Congress." and he noted a paucity of technical talent in the executive branch...  "the executive branch has a chief technology officer (CTO) but many other agencies do not."

Clay went on to describe the problem of complex and arcane bidding documents that require companies to be expert at complexity within the bid documents and understand the nuance of the bidding process rather than actually being an expert in the services to be provided in the contract.

Clay described this situation must more succinctly than I.

"These purchases are governed by first the federal acquisitions regulations and then each department has its own regulations. Because of that, the people who get awarded the work are the people who understand these regulations the best, not the people who can do the best job."

Clay goes on to make several other powerful points about issues in the Federal Procurement Process which need to be changed.

Now imagine the colossal battle between lawyers and lobbyists and their well paid politicians to try and improve this process. And this requires optimism that the whole process can move beyond hyperbole and demagoguing on issues to make political points for re-election.

So what easy lessons are there to see here?

And why is government so scared to fail? Are their partisans ready to jump on every mistake and try to make political hay out of it? Hmm... I should be a comedian.

And do large contractors have too much pull in the halls of congress- being much better at generating influence than actually getting innovative work done...

So what are the answers?

I certainly don't have them all, but I certainly do not like how the existing system works and I do not like the complete lack of a feedback cycle and a thoughtful process for determining way to do things better from which we can create positive change in procedure and process.

What if politicians looked at the bruhaha over Obamacare and healthcare.gov as something to improve to better serve Americans. What if we all
  • We saw this as a learning experience?
  • What if we asked the question- How could we make government work better?
  • How Could We Make Government more responsive to people's needs?
Wouldn't it be nice if we had politicians watching out for the public interest and wanting to execute the laws of the land in the most effective way?

What do you think it will take to move Congress back to a time when it seriously discussed the issues of the American people in Congress and tried to make things better?

Remember that in 2014. Think back to how your elected representative performed as a statesman in the last legislative term. Do they need to be replaced? Think about that. We do need to go in a different direction- don't you think?

So what have you got to say?

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