08 February 2007

Bureaucracy Busting and a 2008 Presidential Proposal

“The British created a civil service job in 1803 calling for a man to stand on the Cliffs of Dover. The man was supposed to ring a bell if he saw Napoleon coming. The job was abolished in 1945.”- Robert Townsend

This is a third in a series of proposals I'd like to hear from presidential hopefuls.

Congress passes legislation after a series of debates, proposals, and counter-proposals. From that process emerge laws and government agencies. The problem has at least two dimensions: the legislation depends on un-testable propositions and it sets up bureaucracies that can easily outlive their purpose.

A movie is the product of a project. Someone has an idea for a script. A group is brought together to translate that script into an action plan (the producer, director, casting agents, etc., choose actors, location, etc.). Another group is brought together to make the film (actors, camera people, catering, etc.). Another group is brought together to market the film (advertisers, marketing, that guy who does the voice over on the trailers, etc.). These teams are assembled, do their job, and then disband. This is in stark contrast to a bureaucracy that exists day in and day out.

Some parts of the government will probably never become project-focused. We will always have mail service, for instance, and it is unlikely that we'll ever have a team assemble just to deliver mail to your house and then dissolve. But other initiatives could be done as projects. And this could tie in with adding a testable hypothesis to legislation.

My proposal is this. Legislation should be testable and result in project efforts rather than bureaucracies. For instance, if you are claiming that a certain initiative will reduce teen pregnancies, you need a clear proposition about how you will measure that and a prediction of how much you’ll reduce it.

In order to implement legislation, we should rely on project teams instead of new agencies. Do we really need a Department of Reduction in Teen Pregnancy? We may need project teams – one to come in to analyze, another to create educational materials and processes that could be incorporated into schools, for instance. Upon completion of their objective, the project teams would be disbanded.

There is no automatic bureaucracy. Further, the legislation itself expires if the data indicates that it was based on a bad theory. You thought that teaching abstinence to teens and doing away with Planned Parenthood centers that offered contraceptives would lower teen pregnancies but it actually increased it? Your legislation expires and we're back to the status quo - until new legislation can be passed.

Further, constituents would have a measure of the effectiveness of their representative or senator. It would not be enough to pass legislation. Constituents could compare the prediction and actual results of legislation their representative introduced or voted on. We'd introduce some feedback into the system that would create learning for Congress and a quality metric for their constituents. We would soon learn whose worldview was hopelessly out of touch with reality and whose actually connected to reality. And government growth would no longer be automatic.

This would, finally, offer a means to achieve accountability and rein in government spending. And what candidate could say no to that?

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