The new economy calls for new ways of thinking in this year’s election. What better way to answer the call of your country than to offer the next U.S. president some unsolicited management advice? Want to bring the government into the new economy? Start by reorganizing — and then bring in some new talent! Here are a few suggestions for how to truly reinvent government.
In the beginning, there was State, Treasury, and War — the first cabinet departments of a young American nation. Since then, the federal government has become a sprawling behemoth. We recommend trimming the current government — and using the proceeds to fund these five new agencies that are more attuned to the new economy.
Federal Authority of Questions (FAQ)
If you have a question about the government — “Where can I get a passport?” or “Am I eligible for government-funded health insurance?” — you need to know which office in which department in which agency is responsible for the task. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if you could go to one place to get all of your questions answered, 24-7?
We live in a world of self-service. With some help from the feds, we can serve ourselves faster, cheaper, and better: A Web site or a toll-free number, routed to the FAQ office, would enable questions to be answered fast. The feds are already catching on to this customer-service ethic — there is now a government-services portal called FirstGov (www.firstgov.gov), as well as vertical portals such as Workers.gov (www.workers.gov) — but the addition of a FAQ office, led by Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, would make government even more citizen-friendly.
Office of the Future
Most politicians are forward-looking: They’ve got their eyes on the next election. Trouble is, their policies affect our lives long after the last ballot is cast. Companies know that the first one to the future wins. Why should things be any different for countries? What the White House needs is a think tank to assess the impact of policies 10, 50, even 100 years into the future. Staffed by demographers, futurists, and scenario planners, and directed by futurist Watts Wacker, this office would advise the president and his cabinet of the long-term consequences of their actions.
National Office of Webification (NOW)
Let’s not just reinvent government. Let’s Webify it! The Web routes around greed! Can the Web route around government stupidity? We need a temporary government office — speed wins! — with a two-year timetable and a name that underscores the urgency of the task: We need Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, to head up a National Office of Webification — NOW.
The American Genomics Project
Most of us haven’t wrapped our minds around the significance of decoding the human genome. But the fact is, the genomics revolution is going to make the computing revolution look like nothing more than a toy. Genomics makes us think about everything from the economics of food to the ethics of medicine. We need a genomics commission, led by Chicago-Kent College of Law professor and bioethicist Lori B. Andrews, to start a national conversation.
Department of Data
During World War II, loose lips sank ships. In the new economy, a loose statistic makes markets go ballistic. Billions of dollars hinge on government data — from GDP growth to inflation figures to the unemployment rate. But the government now has more than 70 statistical agencies spread across a dozen departments. How about consolidating all of those data dogs and number crunchers into a single one-stop shop for government figures? A Department of Data for the new economy, run by former Census Bureau director Martha Farnsworth Richie, is just what we need.
Some government offices don’t really need to be reinvented — they just need to be reinvigorated. The next president could live up to that old political bromide “Let’s run the government like a business” by staffing his cabinet with some leading figures from the new world of business. Here are just a few of our suggestions.
U.S. Department of Transportation
Yes, the new economy is about electrons, bits, and a blizzard of ones and zeros. But it’s also still about stuff — especially moving stuff (and people) from one place to another. With FedEx and UPS trucks rumbling down every street, we need a secretary of transportation who understands the transportation business. Who better for the job than Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines’s maverick president, chairman, and CEO? (Free peanuts on I-95, anyone?) Yes, Kelleher has supported the Bush campaign, but free peanuts are about as nonpartisan as you can get.
U.S. Department of Labor
In a workforce where more and more people are becoming free agents, blurring the distinction between employer and employee, our labor laws are becoming as outdated as a Kaypro computer. America’s next secretary of labor will have to reckon with the rise of Free Agent Nation — which is why we would like to nominate Sara Horowitz, the savvy founder of Working Today, America’s premier free-agent advocacy group.
Central Intelligence Agency
Ah, the Cold War. It was all so easy back then. Good guys and bad guys. Our spy versus their spy. Not anymore! The hyperlinked global economy muddles the old categories. Our next CIA director must have the Net in his blood and the world on his browser. We recommend Cyveillance Inc. cofounder, chairman, and CEO Brandy Thomas, whose “e-Business Intelligence” software serves as the eyes and ears of clients on the Web’s more than 2 billion pages. We’d tell you more — but then we’d have to kill you.
U.S. Department of Energy
Most people think about energy only when gas prices spike or when heating oil is in short supply. Amory B. Lovins has been thinking about energy throughout his entire career. Two decades ago, Lovins cofounded the Rocky Mountain Institute, an influential, entrepreneurial, and nonprofit energy think tank in Snowmass, Colorado. Since then, he has become a leading proponent of “natural capitalism” and has helped industries boost profits through renewable energy and other environment-friendly strategies. He’d be a perfect fit.
U.S. Small Business Administration
What was the last good idea that you heard come out of the SBA? Thought so. Now, what was the last good idea that you heard come out of idealab!, the Internet incubator in Pasadena, California? EToys maybe? Tickets.com? GoTo.com? CitySearch? To turn the SBA into an R&D lab for cutting-edge business, we suggest Bill Gross, idealab!’s founder, chairman, and CEO. Who knows? Maybe he’d even save Social Security by taking the SBA public.
Daniel H. Pink (firstname.lastname@example.org), a Fast Company contributing editor, has worked in a cabinet department and at the White House. The only things in his cabinet today are canned goods.