Last week I attended a dinner hosted in Washington, DC by the terrific group ACT/IAC about the topic of Government 2.0 and innovation. One thing that occured to us during the formal discussion period was that during World War II and the early days of the Cold War afterwards, there was simply less bureaucracy, and things like getting a government job just took less time.
When we talk about attracting the Millennial generation into the government workforce, and when we talk about innovating to adapt to a rapidly changing environment, we’re often thinking about futuristic digital technology. But we rarely look back. In the 40s, 50s, and 60s there was a great deal of innovation taking place – the federal government was scaled up, the Pentagon was built in a matter of months, the OSS and CIA were created (and were relatively effective), and so on.
It’s hard to imagine doing that so quickly today. Just think about the U.S. government’s official job portal, USAJobs. I don’t know anyone who’s had a pleasureable experience with USAJobs (whether they got the job or not). It can be so offputting, some people just give up. That’s not a great message to send about how urgently we need smart young people in government. Where’s the concierge to guide you to a job that suits your unique skill set?
This “fierce urgency of not right now” is something I have written about for a while. One idea we had at the dinner was to gather people from “The Greatest Generation” who have been working in and around government for 40 years together in a forum where they can teach us how to innovate by looking backward to what they did then. Tom Brokaw could moderate, even.
I think that if a lot of government leaders and managers took some time out from their day-to-day work and listened to and conversed with these veterans, everyone would learn a lot. And we may get some fresh old ideas about how to make Government 2.0 happen with some urgency. Simplify, get back to basics, decide what’s truly important, make a plan, and innovate.
Update 9:46am – Chris Matthews was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program this morning (right after I wrote this) talking about health care and how America needs to “get it done.” Normally I would be on the side of asking more questions, making value judgements, looking at costs and tradeoffs, and so forth. But maybe I’ve become caught up in this too. It’s not always great to rush into things, but Matthews’ point (which he was getting hammered on by the host) was simply: Do you want universal health care in America or not? If you do, we have to get it done. I have to respect the blunt argument given the above.