Politics Has Us Lost

Curve.jpeg

So we’ve become a nation that only seems to be moving, but yet is heading nowhere fast.  


Shock and awe and “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”


Think about it!


Where are we going?


– Are we growing, innovating, leading. 


– Are we spreading our ideals of freedom, human rights, and democracy.


– Are we a nation the defends those in need and is a refuge for those under duress.


– Are we a country that is safe and secure from threats external and internal. 


– Are we united and heading in a clear direction with a strategy and making incremental steps towards our goals.


– Where are we on critical programs for the future from genuinely protecting our environment with binding agreements to investments in our space program to discover, travel, and build our destiny beyond just here. 


– Do we have the love and respect of our friends and the fear of those that are against our way of life.


– Are the decisions that are being made bringing together those from across the political aisle and are they particularly fruitful in terms of making a real difference in people’s lives or in our future.


– Why is the system so broken and we don’t even hear any real ideas anymore about how to fix it.


– Why do we hear about Obamacare, trade deals, deals with Iran, deals over global warming, deals over Syria, budget deals, yet don’t see or feel any tangible differences in our lives–or feel any passion from those making the decisions.


– Where is the grand vision to really put a man on Mars, solve poverty, or cure cancer.


– Why is Russia grabbing what they want with Crimea, planning a permanent station on the moon, and creating air and naval bases in Syria and we can’t even train some rebels to fight.


– Why are we afraid to call radical Islamic terrorism what it is and to fight them over there before they come over here.


– Why do we bounce back and forth unable to overcome basic problems like with our flailing education system first centralizing federally with “No Child Left Behind” and then decentralizing to the States with “Every Student Succeeds.”


– Why do we reign in the budget one year with Sequestration only to expand the budget with unpaid tax cuts the next.


– Why do we call for a strong military and then cut their budget and undercut their mandate to get their job done. 


– Why do we stress the importance of cybersecurity, but then lose the security clearances and personnel information of the entire federal, intelligence, and military workforce.


– Why do we let in terrorists and criminals to our country and are then surprised when they commit violent acts against our people. 


– Why do we hurt allies and embrace enemies.


– Why do we stymie debate and opposition disrespecting others, calling them horrible names, threatening them, and working to destroy them instead of embracing healthy debate and compromise. 


– Why do we claim transparency, but then hide behind obscurity. 


This could be the list that never ends, which goes on and on my friends, some rationale people started asking common sense questions, not knowing how broken this system was, and they’ll just keep questioning it forever just because…it makes no sense. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Victorian Penny Car

Victorian Penny Car Victorian Penny Car 2 Victorian Pennies
I took these photos in Classic Motors of Washington, D.C. 



This car is made of Victorian Pennies from the U.K. 



The pennies are special (1837-1901) with an intricate design of British Queen Victoria. 



This car is one of only 9 in the entire world. 



The sign in the back window says, “This vehicle is not for sale.”



It’s got to be some job to get all those old pennies on this car. 



I remember when we were kids my sister had this long green plastic container for collecting pennies.  



Pennies already back in those days were worthless, and it was just a hobby to throw them in and see how many we could collect. 



After some years, the thing was so heavy, I could use it for my exercise routine.



So why do we still make stupid pennies…for classic collector vehicles?  



Old habits die hard, and the government is a big bureaucratic ship that doesn’t turn on a penny or dime or whatever–I think that’s the real reason we still do so many nonsensical things. 😉



(Source Photos: Andy Blumenthal)

Losing Deadly Control

Skull

So today we hear that there was a horrible mistake in which at least 52 sites (in 18 states here and 3 other countries) were inadvertently sent LIVE anthrax!!!


This after a prior incident in December where ebola had been mishandled and a technician potentially exposed. 


Again last August, they announced that a lab had accidentally cross-contaminated benign bird flu virus with a deadly strain of it. 


And there are at least five other major mishaps just since 2009 including more with anthrax and bird flu as well as with Brucella and botulism–these involved everything from using improper sterilization and handling techniques to inadvertent shipments of deadly live germs. 


Also in July, the CDC discovered six vials of LIVE smallpox in an unused storage room at the NIH.


This is reminiscent of similar gaffes by the military with an inadvertent shipment in 2007 by the Air Force of six nuclear warheads while the crew was unaware that they were even carrying it.


And here we go again (a doozy this time), information was disclosed in 2013 that we nearly nuked ourselves (specifically North Carolina) with 2 hydrogen bombs (260 times more powerful than that exploded on Hiroshima) in 1961. 


Yes, mistakes happen, but for weapons of mass destructions that we are talking about here, there are layers of safeguards that are supposed to be strictly in place. 


After each incident, it seems that some official acknowledges the mistakes made, says sorry, and claims things are going to be cleaned up now. 


But if the same or similar mistakes are made over and over again, then what are we really to believe, especially when millions of lives are at stake?


We have too much faith in the large bureaucratic system called government that despite how well it could be run, very often it isn’t and is prone to large and dangerous errors and miscalculations.


With all due respect for our experts in these areas, we need to spend a lot more time and effort to ensure the safety of our most dangerous stockpiles–be it of nuclear, chemical, biological, or radiological origin. 


We can’t afford any more mistakes–or the next one could be more than just a simple (not) embarrassment.


What good is all the preparation to win against our enemies, if we are our own worst enemy or we have meet the enemy and it is us! 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Where Did I Put That Action Memo?

Desk Piled High
Lots of people desks seem to look like this.

(Not me though…compulsive neat freak and learned from IBM’s “clean desk policy” early on in my career.)

In analyzing our fight against Islamic jihadists and terrorists, Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal writes:

“In all the photos published of al Qaeda, Islamic State or any other terror groups, have you ever seen them sitting at desks?”

Henninger points out the root of “Bureaucracy” is the French word “Bureau,” which mean desk.

Hence, we in the West are stuck behind desks, while the terrorists are actively working to destroy our freedom and way of life–smashing down doors and wielding AK47s and suicide vests!

We’ve got to stop hiding behind our piled-high desks, analysis-paralysis position papers, endless meetings, and political bickering, and actually do something concrete, meaningful, and strong–to not only deter, but destroy the enemy!

Fear of making a decision or nonsense claims that your still searching for that action memo is something that should get you uprooted from your messy desk with a boot up your a*s!

Wake up, wake up, wake up–enough ho hum, we need some leadership that is bold, patriotic, and heroic to protect what we value so dear.

Don’t you think it’s time to win this war for real?

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Shawn de Raaf)

Govgeddon Is Not An Option

Govgeddon Is Not An Option

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about how the Federal government is falling to attract young people.

“Employees under the age of 30 hit an eight-year low of 7% in 2013…[while back in 1975, more than 20% of the federal workforce was under 30.”

Conversely, 45% of the federal workforce is older than 50.

Moreover by September 2016, a quarter of the all federal employees will be eligible to retire–that the retirement wave we’ve been hearing about for years, but never seems to really come (because of the economy).

Without “a pipeline of young talent, the government risks falling behind in an increasingly digital world.”

It’s not the older people can’t learn the technology, but rather they aren’t digital natives as those born in the later part of the 20th century.

To see just a glimpse of the digital divide, you need to go no further than when many of these folks snicker at us for even just sending emails–something so uncouth to the younger crowd.

With years of salary freezes, no awards, benefit cuts especially for new hires, and shutdowns, the federal government which used to be “an employee of choice,” is “now an employee of last resort.”

Further, “the reputation for bureaucracy and hierarchy is driving away many workers.” People want to be productive and get things done, not spin their wheels.

Yet, the government offers so many exciting jobs performing critical missions in everything from national security, diplomacy, law enforcement, and so much more, it is ironic that we cannot attract young people, who are often the most idealist.

Diversity in the federal workforce means that people under 30 are not a rarity!

Everyone–no matter what age, sex, race, religion, and so one–provides an important contribution, so that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

We need people to clearly feel the honor in public service, to see the importance of the missions performed, and to be treated like valued workers and not political pawns in partisan showdowns and Washington shutdowns.

Let’s actively recruit with an attractive smorgasbord of enhanced salary and benefits, especially in critical fields like cyber security, information technology, biotechnology, aerospace engineering, and more.

It’s time for the federal government to become attractive for young (and older) workers again, and not apologetic for providing important jobs in service of the nation.

The federal government needs to compete for the best and brightest and not resign itslef to second-tier, ever.

Our young people are an important pipeline for fresh ideas and cutting-edge skills, and we need them to prevent a govgeddon where we can’t perform or compete with the skills and diversity of workforce that we must have. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Archaic Federal Hiring Practices

Archaic Federal Hiring Practices

So the Federal government has some archaic hiring practices.

Some common critiques of the system:

– While gone are the dreaded KSAs (knowledge, Skills, and ability essays), in it’s place are what many could consider meaningless multiple choice questions that enable applicants to game the system and answer what they think or know is the right answer just to get the highest points.

– Also, there is always the potential (however infrequently) that there is a favorite candidate of someone or someone who knows someone, but knowing doesn’t necessarily mean best qualified, but rather well-networked or connected.

To be fair, there are protections in the hiring system to include an oath of truthfulness on the application as well as security clearances which are used to help ensure accuracy. Additionally, there are the Merit System Principles that prohibit favoritism and nepotism of any sort.

However, when it comes to hiring, what you can’t really do in the government is just plain and simple see and recognize talent and bring someone on board.

Anyway, this came to mind today, when we ran again into this amazing lady at Starbucks. She works there right out of college.

She’s a barista and has the most amazing customer service skills I’ve seen in 25 years of professional experience.

She remembers us every time we come in and recalls what we talked about on our last visit. She regularly asks about things like my kids talking their SATs, visiting colleges, and more.

But she doesn’t just do this with me, but with all her customers.

She has a big welcoming hello, and smile for all of them, and doesn’t just take their orders, but engages them as human beings.

I tell you this young lady would be terrific as a customer service representative in my IT shop or any other…and if I were in the private sector or had my own company, yes, I’d conduct a more thorough interview and background on her, but then I’d probably shake hands on the spot and offer her a job.

I can see her interacting with my customers, capturing their requirements, problem-solving, as well as routine troubleshooting through engagement with the customer and the subject matter experts.

Why?

Because she is a natural with people and intuitively understands how to work with them, engage, and establish trust and good service ethos.

However, if she applied on USAJOBS in the current system of hiring, I think she’d never make “the cert” (the list of qualified applicants that gets referred to the hiring manager), because she’s currently working in a coffee shop.

Something is wrong that we can’t easily bring in young or old, talented people from the private sector or out of school, and grow them into federal service, even if they don’t have the perfect checklist answers.

Unfortunately, this is a problem in many bureaucratic-driven organizations, where if it’s not checklist-driven, then it’s usually not at all. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Virtual Government–Yes or Nonsense

Virtual Government--Yes or Nonsense

The Atlantic (2 June 2013) asks why do we even need a government these days–why not just have a virtual one–where you just “buy” the government you want, the size, the capabilities, and you tailor it for your needs?

The author sees government as menu-driven, like a videogame, by a “rotating dial,” where you choose whatever government suites you best.

In this world of virtual government, people are seen turning to private sector alternatives to get capabilities, customer service, and prices that are better than the government’s–in some cases, this may actually work, like with private insurance.

However, this article goes beyond this notion to where government is not tied to the physical boundaries of the real world, but rather to virtual jurisdictions, citizenship, and even values held or abrogated.

While I agree that raising the bar on government is a good thing–expect more for less–and partnering with the private sector can make government more efficient, the idea of wholesale shopping government around is quite ludicrous:

– Will we hire mercenaries instead of having an armed forces?

– Will we rely solely on CEOs to conduct our diplomacy?

– Will justice be doled out by vigilantes?

– Will private inspectors alone regulate food, drug, and the financial system?

While compared to an iPad wheel for making service selections, Government is not the same as a library of songs or movies that one scrolls through to pick and choose what one likes and dislikes.

Like the old joke about the difference between family and friends…you can choose your friends, but you can’t just choose your family!

While government can provide services virtually, it cannot be a government entirely sliced up by choice–where you opt-in for what you like and opt-out for what you don’t–if that were the case, we would all selfishly take and never contribute to the greater good.

For example, “Hey, I like social entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, but I don’t particularly care for contributing to space exploration or research and development for certain diseases that I may not be genetically predisposed to.”

There is a civic commons where we must share–the prime example is a fire department. If I choose not to contribute, then the fire department still has to come to put out the fire or else it can spread to others.

In the end, we are not just a collective of individuals, but a nation bound together by core values and beliefs, and shared interests and investments in the future–and where by sharing the risks and burdens, we fall or rise together.

Like anything that you are seriously apart of–family, religion, organizations, and work–we take the good and work on the bad, rather than just immaturely throwing it all or in innumerable parts away.

Yes, government should only do functions that are inherently governmental, and we should avail ourselves of all the talent and expertise in the private sector for the rest, but no, we should not wholly think that we can replace government with loose and shifting ties on the Internet and purely profit-driven private sector players.

If Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda serving as modern virtual governments are the best examples of what can be accomplished, then we should all be running (not walking) to good ‘ol Democracy of the U.S. of A.

Virtual government as a way to provision services as well as competition and augmentation by the private sector is great, but becoming a stateless state will not solve the large and complex problems we must face, not alone, but together.

Even though bureaucratic waste and abuse is bad, the system of debate, negotiation, checks and balances, basic human rights, and voting is good, and we should not just throw out the precious baby with the dirty bathwater. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Is Bureaucracy Just Another Name For Governance?

Is Bureaucracy Just Another Name For Governance?

Fascinating opinion piece by Fisman and Sullivan in the Wall Street Journal on Friday (15 March 2013) called “The Unsung Beauty of Bureaucracy.”

The authors argue that bureaucratic rules and regulations serve important purposes in that while “less good stuff gets done–but it also puts a check on the kinds of initiatives that can lead to catastrophe.”

And they give numerous examples of industries that perform sensitive functions that you would want to actually take some extra time to make sure they get it right.

A vary basic example given was the company Graco that makes infant car seat and strollers; they have five design phases and hundreds of tests that add up to two years to product development, but who would rationally argue against such quality controls processes to protect our children.

They make another good point, we always here about bureaucracy slowing the innovation and product development down, but what about the “bad ideas that were quashed as a result of the same rules?”

We all rail against having to jump through hoops to get things done and rightfully so. The mission is important, time is of the essence, and resources are limited–last thing anyone wants is to be told you have x process that must be followed, y gates to get through, z signatures to obtain–and that’s just for the routine stuff! 🙂

But as much as we hate to be slowed down to cross the t’s and dot the i’s, often that’s just what we really need–to make sure we don’t do anything half-a*sed, stupid, or jut plain reckless.

One mistake in an operational environment can bring things to a standstill for thousands, in a system it can have a dominos effect taking down others, and in product development it can bring deadly consequences to consumers, and so on.

So putting up some “bureaucratic” hurdles that ensure good governance may be well worth its weight in gold.

Frankly, I don’t like the word bureaucracy because to me it means senseless rules and regulations, but good governance is not that.

We need to stop and think about what we are doing–sometimes even long and hard and this is difficult in a fast-paced market–but like a race car taking the turn too fast that ends up in a fiery heap–stopped not by their steady pacing, but by the retaining wall protecting the crowds from their folly.

One other thing the author state that I liked was their pointing out the government which is involved in so many life and death matters needs to maintain some heightened-level of governance (I’ll use my word), to get the food supplies safe and the terrorists out.

From clear requirements to careful test plans, we need to ensure we know what we are doing and that it will work.

At the same time, showing up after the party is over serves no purpose.

Like all things in an adult world, balance is critical to achieving anything real. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Who Are The Kids And Who The Adults

 

This video is hilarious as the little girl acts out what we look and sound like at work. 

She is actually so good, I think she would qualify for many of the postings today at USAJOBS. 🙂 

Perhaps, we all need to be ourselves again at work, rather than cliche and acronym robots. 

Then we could actually get some real work done, at least when we aren’t busy acting like children! 

Enjoy and laugh a little.

Federal Register On Steroids

Now, here is a new way of looking at the information from GovPulse, a site developed to “make such documents as the Federal Register searchable, more accessible and easier to digest…to encourage every citizen to become more involved in the workings of their government and make their voice heard.”  The site is built from open source.
You’ll see that there is a lot more information readily available, organized in multiple ways, and really quite user-centric; some examples:
1) Number of Entries for the Day: The number of entries for the day are listed right at the top.
2) Calendar for Selecting Day of Interest:  Next to the number of entries for the day, you can click on the calendar icon and get an instant 3 months of dates to choose from or enter another date of interest and be instantly take to there.
3) Statistics for the Day: The right sidebar displays the locations mentioned on a map and the types of entries and reporting agencies in pie charts.
4) Department Entries are Prominently Displayed: Both the number of entries for each department are identified as well as identifying their type and length along with an abstract for the entry. Each Department’s entries can easily be expanded or collapses by clicking on the arrow next to the department’s name.
5) Entries are Enabled for Action: By clicking on an entry, there are options to share it via social media to Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and Reddit to let others know about it and there is also a listing of your senators and representatives and their contact information to speak up on the issues.
Additional helpful features on the homepage–immediate access to areas that are last chance to act or what’s new, such as:
1) Comments closing in the next 7 days
2) Comments opened in the last 7 days
3) Rules taking effect in the next 7 days 
4) Rules proposed in the last 7 days 
Moreover,  you have another map with bubbles showing mentioned locations or you can enter your own location and get all the entries subdivided by 10, 15, 20 miles and so on up to 50 miles away.
Another feature called Departmental Pulse, show a trend line of number of entries per department over the last year or 5 years.
At the top of the page, you can quickly navigate to entries in the Federal Register by agency, topic, location, date published, or do a general search. 
There are other cool features such as when you look at entries by department, you can see number of entries, places mentioned, and a bubble map that tells you popular topics for this department.
Overall, I think GovPulse deserves a big thumbs up in terms of functionality and usability and helping people get involved in government by being able to access information in easier and simpler ways.
The obvious question is why does it take 3 outsiders “with a passion for building web applications” to do this?
While I can’t definitively answer that, certainly there are benefits to coming in with fresh eyes, being true subject matter experts, and not bound by the “bureaucracy” that is endemic in so many large institutions.
This is not say that there are not many talented people in government–because there certainly are–but sometimes it just takes a few guys in a garage to change the world as we know it.

Federal_register Govpulse