Many observers of the Obama presidency describe the president as pragmatic. So far, though, I do see a nuts-and-bolts kind of legacy forming. I see him presiding over complex problems and creating complex solutions to them.
There is, however, ample time for Obama to take a different path, one that won’t conflict with his aspirations or necessarily save the government money, though it should—simplification.
I read this NPR story the other day (Disabled Veterans Face A Faceless Bureaucracy, which you can also listen to it here) discussing the problems veterans face by a hugely overcomplicated Veterans Administration. The story put my strategic brain into gear.
So here is the idea: start with the VA and create a modern, simplified, on-line, high-touch, customer oriented VA. Don’t go big and simplify government. Start small. Pick the VA. Then deconstruct the VA and start even smaller. But do it fast. Set an aggressive timetable and get moving. Hold people accountable for change. Get people out of the way who want to hold on to old methods, be their administrators, doctors or nurses. Get a patient first system in place. Eliminate data requirements that aren’t meaningful or useful. Get to the core.
Create a lean government agency. The software world is moving toward “lean development,” Obama could become the proponent of lean government. Create a vision for the VA, make it strategic, and move forward. And when that is done, I say less than 18 months, then pick another agency or department. Then start pushing for parallel efforts. Don’t get bogged down in over thinking everything. Worry about citizens privacy and rights, but procedures, protocols and bureaucracy have no rights. Persecute them with impunity.
Mr. Obama, if you want to stand for something big, I challenge you to think about crafting something smaller than you inherited. Be the champion of lean government. If you can get the dems behind you, you might even be able to salvage November, because this is so conservative it would put the republican’s into the untenable position of being against smaller government. Rather than small by rhetoric, be small in deed. Be practical. Then I say you go after the IRS and the tax code. Who wouldn’t like that as a goal after the VA becomes the poster child for lean government in a first time. It’s a strategy, up to it?
If we want a more competitive nation, let’s start at the core.