Posts about government

Taking flight — and fixing it

The other day, I wrote about how I’d like to see airplane flights become social economies as a way to improve and add value to the now-tortured experience. Of course, much of the hassle of flying is in the unfortunately necessary security gauntlet, and others are talking about how to improve that — including the security people running it.

Anthony Williams of Wikinomics points us to an article in FCW describing a successful effort to gather ideas and information from Transportation Security Administration employees through a closed wiki. Williams regrets that we passengers can’t join in and I think he’s right. There’s are obvious reasons why the TSA wiki is closed — namely, security and secrets — but they’d be wise to create a parallel wiki and forum where we, the passengers, could give our ideas and where the TSA people can try out theirs on us.

In the FCW article, Jennifer Dorn, CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration, talks about “rebooting the public square” this way. In a speech, she tells about hearing of the TSA initiative from Kip Hawley, its assistant secretary:

After a great dinner and stimulating conversation, Hawley leaned over and, in a tone reminiscent of the famous scene in the movie “The Graduate,” said, “Jenna, I want to say one word to you. Just one word.”

“Yes?” I said.

“Are you listening?”

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

“Wiki.” . . .

TSA’s Idea Factory is a secure intranet, restricted to registered users inside the agency. It has become an instant hit. Airport TSOs now share ideas for improving their workplace environment and strategies for making the traveling public more secure. Within a week of its launch, TSA employees had submitted more than 150 ideas, offered more than 650 comments and voted on ideas more than 800 times.

Dorn realizes that this is about more than improving airport security. This is about improving government.

Today, we at the academy are convinced that collaborative technology has the potential to transform government in America, to tap into the expertise of people outside the hierarchy of any single agency or department, to make government more transparent, and to open the door to a broader array of experts focused on solving a particular problem or to citizens who want to contribute to making government work better. . . .

As a public administrator, I believe that the real power of collaborative technology extends far beyond the practical solutions that I’ve outlined. It is more than a new capability. It enables an entirely new way of thinking about the everyday management challenges of government. The real power of collaborative technology lies in its promise for bringing citizens back to the public square to re-engage them in the work of government and solving the problems of America and the world.

: Back to improving airlines and airports. Brad Templeton, chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is filled with ideas. Found via the Lufthansa discussion, where I’ve not been able to post my comment.

Failing infrastructure

John Podhoretz is right: The most fundamental job of government is to maintain our shared infrastructure. When that infrastructure fails us — when steam pipes explode, bridges collapse, and cities are paralyzed by nothing more than rain (as today in New York), government has failed us. Podhoretz wrote this before New York fell apart from minor flooding:

To maintain public safety, we have armies (to defend us from external threats), police forces (to protect us from criminals) and firefighters. That’s part of the reason we pay taxes to government in the first place.

The other part is to keep up publicly shared spaces and utilities – parks, streets, reservoirs, water tunnels, sewage tunnels and the like.

Government properly requires all citizens to share in defraying the cost of these expenses because it supplies them to everyone without question.

The social compact here is simple: We give the money to government, and all we ask in return is that these publicly shared responsibilities and resources are properly maintained.

Maintenance is necessary but boring, and since government is made up of human beings who abhor boredom, few elected officials or high-level managers are all that interested in this mundane task. Instead, they want to do big, exciting, bold new things – things they can claim for their own.

Now, not surprisingly, Podhoretz goes on to begin a two-paragraph treatise on the size and scope of government. We can debate that all day long. But no one should debate the fundamental job of government in maintaining our infrastructure — and the failure of that.

New York and New Jersey today were brought to a halt because of some rain. Yes, it was a lot of rain in a short time. But every damned time we get a lot of rain, the same damned things happen. And we just let them happen. Streets and subways flood. Why hasn’t government built drains? Why haven’t we insisted?

It took me four hours to get into New York City today — that was New Jersey’s fault — but when I got there, the subways were closed and the riders were kept uninformed and the transit system did nothing to help them (except abuse people who wanted to get onto buses). Government failed. It failed at the fallen bridge. It failed a few weeks earlier when a New York street exploded. It fails every day there is an air-traffic-control mess. It failed today.

We need to demand that government get to the boring job of government.