BIG Difference Between Private and Public Sectors

Sword.jpeg

So I thought this was very telling today about the difference between the public and private sectors…


I was teaching a class and gave the students a challenging scenario and problem and asked how they would solve it.


The class was a mix of leaders and managers from the public and private sectors–this time weighted mostly on the commercial side. 


Typically, the students from the government usually provide answers in terms of lengthy analysis processes, negotiations, vetting and getting buy-in and approvals through many layers of bureaucracy and red tape, as well as getting people to understand the what’s in it for me (WIIFM) value proposition.


However, this time, one the students from the private sector said bluntly, the following:

We can either do it the easy way or the hard way!


So I asked, “What do you mean the easy and hard ways?”


And he answered:

The easy way is that we can try at first to appeal to people, but if that doesn’t work then the hard way is we just do what needs get done.


Again with great interest and curiosity, I inquire, “And how do you that?”


This time someone else answers, and says:

We do “rip and replace”–we pull up the truck in the middle of the night and we rip out the things we don’t like and replace it with what we do, period.


Then I ask innocently again, “So what happens the next morning?”


And the 2nd person answers again, and says:

Who cares, the job is done!


This reminded me a little of the old images of the mob gangster pulling up in the shadows of the night to someone’s door that wasn’t cooperating and applying the baseball bat to the knees!


Yes, it’s a very different and extreme way of getting what you want and when you want it, done. 


Quite a BIG difference between the private and public sector approach to getting thing done!


One one hand, we have the speed and execution of the marketplace versus the more lengthly thoughtfulness and inherent compromises of government and politics. 


What’s it gonna be–some bureaucracy, seemingly endless red tape, and horse-trading or the good ol’ baseball bat to the knees? 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Healthcare.gov – Yes, Yes, and Yes

Yes, Yes, and Yes

Healthcare.gov was rolled out on October 1.

Since then there has been lots of bashing of the site and fingerpointing betweeen government overseers and contractors executing it.

Some have called for improvements down the line through further reform of government IT.

Others have called for retribution by asking for the resignation of the HHS Secretary Sebelius.

Publication after publication has pointed blame at everything from/to:

– A labyrinth government procurement process

– Not regularly using IT best practices like shared services, open source, cloud computing, and more

– An extremely large and complex system rollout with changing requirements

And the answer is yes, yes, and yes.

Government procurement is complex and a highly legislated functional area where government program managers are guided to hiring small, disadvantaged, or “best value” contract support through an often drawn-out process meant to invoke fairness and opportunity, while the private sector can hire the gold standard of who and what they want, when they want, period.

Government IT is really a partnership of public and private sector folks that I would image numbers well in the hundreds of thousands and includes brand name companies from the esteemed defense and aerospace industries to small innovators and entrepreneurs as well as a significant number of savvy government IT personnel. Having worked in both public and private sector, I can tell you this is true–and that the notion of the government worker with the feet up and snoozing is far from the masses of truth of hardworking people, who care about their important mission serving the public. That being said, best practices in IT and elsewhere are evolving and government is not always the quickest to adopt these. Typically, it is not bleeding edge when it comes to safety and security of the public, but more like followers–sometimes fast, but more often with some kicking and screaming as there is seemingly near-constant change, particularly with swirling political winds and shifting landscapes, agendas, lobbyists, and stakeholders wanting everything and the opposite.

Government rollout for Healthcare.gov was obviously large and complex–it “involves 47 different statutory provisions and extensive coordination,” and impacted systems from numerous federal agencies as well as 36 state governments using the services. While rollouts from private sector companies can also be significant and even global, there is often a surgical focus that goes on to get the job done. In other words, companies choose to be in one or another business (or multiple businesses) as they want or to spin off or otherwise dislodge from businesses they no longer deem profitable or strategic. In the government, we frequently add new mission requirements (such as the provision of universal healthcare in this case), but hardly ever take away or scale back on services. People want more from the government (entitlements, R&D, secure borders, national security, safe food and water, emergency response, and more), even if they may not want to pay for it and seek the proverbial “smaller government” through less interference and regulation.

Is government IT a walk in the park, believe me after having been in both the public and private sectors that it is not–and the bashing of “cushy,” federal jobs is a misnomer in so many ways. Are there people that take advantage of a “good, secure, government job” with benefits–of course there are some, but I think those in the private sector can look in the offices and cubes next to them and find quite a number of their colleagues that would fit that type of stereotype as well.

We can learn a lot from the private sector in terms of best practices, and it is great when people rotate from the private sector to government and vice versa to cross-pollinate ideas, processes, and practices, but the two sectors are quite different in mission, (often size and complexity), constituents, politics, and law–and not everything is a slam dunk from one to the other. However, there are very smart and competent people as well as those who can do better in both–and you fool yourself perhaps in your elitism if you think this is not the case.

Are mistakes made in government IT–definitely yes. Should there be accountability to go with the responsibility–absolutely yes. Will we learn from our mistakes and do better in the future–the answer must be yes. 😉

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)