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Saturday, 3 June 2017

Government is not Papa John's: Windsor Mann

If we want innovation, we need fewer memos and offices and fantasies about business.

President Trump with Jared Kushner on Feb. 23, 2017.
A few weeks ago, President Trump said his administration was running like “a fine-tuned machine.” This was true, I thought, assuming the machine was a Tandy 1000 computer.

Unless the government is bombing or spying on people, it is technologically primitive. The U.S. Senate was still using BlackBerry phones up until last year. A friend of mine works at the Government Printing Office, where I’m pretty sure they still use dot matrix.

Trump wants to modernize the government. This week, he announced the formation of the White House Office of American Innovation, a government attempt at self-improvement.

“To ensure that America remains the global innovation leader, I hereby direct the senior adviser to the President to head an office in the White House dedicated to American innovation,” Trump said. “This office will bring together the best ideas from government, the private sector and other thought leaders [what are thought leaders?] to ensure that America is ready to solve today’s most intractable problems.”

The senior adviser to the president is 36 years old, has no experience in government and is totally qualified to solve today’s most intractable problems. That’s because the senior advisor to the President is married to Ivanka Trump.

“We should have excellence in government,” Jared Kushner, the SAP, said. “The government should be run like a great American company.”

What will the Office of American Innovation do?

According to White House Spokesperson Sean Spicer, it “will focus on modernizing the technology of every federal department, identifying transformational infrastructure projects and reimagining the VA system.”

Let’s get this straight: A new government bureau, headed by Kushner, is going to modernize “the technology” of all 15 departments in the federal government, in addition to identifying and re-imagining stuff.

Spicer said the goal is to “deliver a better product and better service to the American people.” This sounds like a Papa John’s commercial.

Better product. Better service.

Better ingredients. Better pizza. Papa John’s.

The federal government is not a pizza company. Or a company. And Papa Trump is no Papa John, who is naturally tan.

“I promised the American people I would produce results,” Trump said. So far, he has produced a presidential memo. It begins as follows:

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT

THE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT AND CHIEF OF STAFF

THE SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT FOR POLICY

THE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR ECONOMIC POLICY

THE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR DOMESTIC POLICY

THE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR STRATEGIC INITIATIVES

THE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR INTERGOVERNMENTAL AND TECHNOLOGY INITIATIVES

THE SENIOR COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT FOR ECONOMIC INITIATIVES

THE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS

THE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT AND CHIEF OF STAFF TO THE VICE PRESIDENT

THE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT AND STAFF SECRETARY

THE DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET

THE DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY POLICY

SUBJECT: The White House Office of American Innovation

This doesn’t strike me as innovative. It strikes me as tedious.

The government cannot make people creative or innovative, just as it can’t make people happy, despite its best efforts, which are inevitably bureaucratic and hence stifling to innovation. Unlike private enterprises, government is not subject to the profit-and-loss system, which rewards companies that best serve their customers and punishes those that don’t.

Companies can fire people. It’s next to impossible to fire government employees. In 2010, the job security rate for federal workers was 99.43%. As USA TODAY reported, “Death — rather than poor performance, misconduct or layoffs — is the primary threat to job security.”

Government is not a business. Businesses go away. Yet the calls to businessize the government do not. Woodrow Wilson wanted to make government “less unbusinesslike.” Bill Clinton wanted to “reinvent” government. Barack Obama wanted “a government that’s smarter, quicker and more responsive to the needs of the American people.”

“We all have a stake in government success,” Obama said.

“Government success” is an oxymoron. How can the government “succeed” when it simultaneously discourages smoking and subsidizes tobacco farming, or when it “fights” obesity while subsidizing the sugar industry?

However you define “government success,” it should be last on our list of priorities. If we want innovation, less government, not smarter government, is the way to achieve it. People innovate when they are free to experiment, free to be reckless and weird. Trump’s campaign was innovative. The Office of American Innovation is not.

To run the government like a business, the government would have to fire itself. Which is even less likely than Trump firing himself.

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