Let me begin by quoting from an article I read recently:
“More and more each year we have felt about us the pressure of tremendous forces. Our country is going through a terrific period of unrest. Something is wrong … discontent that is destroying our respect for government, uprooting faith in political parties, and causing every precedent and convention of the old order to strain at its moorings.”
Some might note from the rather formal prose that the quote isn’t “ripped from today’s headlines.” In fact it was written by Amos Pinchot, a prominent progressive, in a 1912 pamphlet called “What’s the Matter with America.” One hundred years later, Pinchot might look back differently at an era during which Theodore Roosevelt was ascendant and activist politicians and an aggressive press were able to take on the nation’s problems – a large gap between rich and poor, social unrest, corruption, and dislocation (see Doris Kearns Goodwin’s latest book, “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism”).
So some predictions, observations and questions as we enter this New Year:
- The budget deal should not be celebrated as a success. It should be taken as an indication of how low the process has sunk. It doesn’t really do anything to reduce the debt – now $17.3 trillion and rising. It doesn’t close corporate loopholes or reform expensive health care and retirement programs (e.g., Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.). It doesn’t fully replace the sequester’s spending cuts. As Robert Bixby of the Concord Coalition said, “They haven’t really done anything except avoid another crisis.”
- The newly introduced Senate bill known as the Federal Information Technology Savings, Accountability, and Transparency Act will be enacted into law, spurred by the failures of HealthCare.gov.
- Procurement reform will languish in spite of the president’s pronouncements in an interview with the Wall Street Journal: “The way the federal government does procurement and does IT is generally not very efficient. . . . So what we probably needed to do on the front end was to blow up how we procure for IT.” Both government and industry will be better off from this “failure to launch.
- Evolving from its current piecemeal approach, the Obama administration will totally outsource its technology, management and government reform initiatives to a private-sector consortium made up of Microsoft, McKinsey, and Google.
- Scholars will debate whether the recent failures in Washington’s ability to manage and implement large complex programs are the result of a sclerotic federal government or unique to President Barack Obama’s second term.