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The government does not have a reputation of being especially innovative when it comes to implementing programs or running daily operations. It's hard to know how much this stereotyped is deserved, but there are countless practical examples:
- Government websites that look like they are a decade out of date
- Bureaucracies that require in-person visits to resolve routine issues
- Departments and agencies that don't communicate effectively with eachother
- Internal policies that seem inconsistent with private industry
- Large projects that run massively over budget or are never finished
Digging out examples of each of these is almost too easy. Chances are you can name one off of the top of your head. But it also doesn't help address the problem. How do we create a more modern, efficient, and effective government?
Privatization Is and Is Not The Answer
A standard response from many political observers is that “the government is bad at running things, so more work should be done by businesses.” This is a silly argument to make. Because first of all, very little of what the government does is done without private industry.
The computers that are used by millions of local, state, and federal employees are all made by private companies. Most of their software is too. Not to mention all of the vehicles that are driven by them. As well as virtually all of the equipment, office furniture, industrial supplies, and so on. The United States military gets just about everything from ammunition to uniforms from private companies. There's even a business in Massachusetts that makes the paper for our currency .
It's not just stuff, either. When governments build roads, they mostly use private contractors. The same is true for many government buildings, where the design work, engineering, and labor are often all people working for businesses, not for the government. The examples are numerous. The government isn't doing a lot of the work today. Private companies are.
Of course, what is and is not being done by government employees is an important question. And for modernization, it may be the essential question. Because just like there's probably no good reason for you to make your own electricity, there's probably no good reason for the government to do a lot of the work for the people directly. It makes sense to have someone else who specializes in that work do it for a fee.
Modernization is About Goals
Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of any operation is about determining your objectives. There's no reason to upgrade a system that isn't used. And it's a bad idea to get rid of a team that is doing something people depend upon.
Which may be the reason why so much of the government seems hopelessly out of touch. There is a lack of leadership. We aren't talking about our values, our goals as a society. What is it that we want to pool together and do, and what is it that we want people to take care of on their own?
You can't make a system more modern if you don't know what the system is supposed to do. And as much as it is painful to walk into a government office and watch people do things that don't make sense, talking about what we should and should not do is the first conversation to have.