Business of Governing

April 23, 2017 4:40 pm by Jacob McAllister

Trumps Plan to Run the Government Like a Business

business suit

President Trump has announced a new White House Office of American Innovation, which will be focusing on leaning out the government and overhauling bureaucratic institutions. It plans on accomplishing this by ” harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions,” according to the Washington Post. The office, headed by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, will be granted significant latitude in brainstorming and implementing initiatives, and will report directly to the president.
The idea is to infuse fresh ideas into the political landscape, and score some press coverage that reflects the “change in Washington” narrative. From the Post:

Kushner is positioning the new office as “an offensive team” — an aggressive, nonideological ideas factory capable of attracting top talent from both inside and outside of government, and serving as a conduit with the business, philanthropic and academic communities.

The innovation office has a particular focus on technology and data, and it is working with such titans as Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff and Tesla founder and chief executive Elon Musk. The group has already hosted sessions with more than 100 such leaders and government officials.

The inclusion of government outsiders is being touted by those in charge as proof that they are shaking up the system:

Kushner proudly notes that most of the members of his team have little-to-no political experience, hailing instead from the world of business. They include Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council; Chris Liddell, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives; Reed Cordish, assistant to the president for intergovernmental and technology initiatives; Dina Powell, senior counselor to the president for economic initiatives and deputy national security adviser; and Andrew Bremberg, director of the Domestic Policy Council.

It is worth noting that all of these figures are highly connected businessmen, who are all deeply ingrained in the nexus of the business community and establishment politics. Populism is not something that will be high on any of their radars. In an astonishing quote, Kushner himself referred to American citizens as “customers” of the government:

“We should have excellence in government,” Kushner said Sunday in an interview in his West Wing office. “The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”

Nothing New

Running the Government as a Business is hardly a new idea, writes Philip Bump for the Washington Post:

But that contrast — streamlined business versus wasteful politics — has been the point of the comparison since its inception, exaggerating both the inefficiency of government and the efficiency of business. (Trump, for example, has not always operated his own businesses with unfailing efficiency and effectiveness.) Government has never been able to fully adopt the brutal efficiencies of business because government isn’t a business — the desired outcome isn’t profitability — and government can’t be brutal, since saving money by, say, not paying for Medicare would make for some effective campaign ads by opponents in an election year.

The idea sounds good on its face, as no one can deny there are inefficiencies in government. But working in the public sector requires a different skill set than that of a business leader. There is a give and take, and things are much less autocratic in nature.

Trump likes to repeat the old saw that Washington needs more executives to run government more like businesses. Paul Light, a New York University public service professor who has studied the federal government for decades, notes that business expertise can be very useful, but that business and government leadership require different skills.

“Running a big government agency requires a nuanced knowledge of politics and Washington,” he said, “to know which buttons to push. Unlike a CEO, you can’t just order things to be done.”

And don’t forget about government agencies such as police and firemen whose members risk their lives to do their jobs, which is hard to place a number value on. But the argument comes down to a more fundamental question than that, it is about the principle that ” not everything that is profitable is of social value and not everything of social value is profitable.

Devil’s Advocate

There are indeed opportunities for improvement at every level of government, and we should all root for the program’s success, writes for Politico, while laying out some ways in which the program could find success.

In carrying out its work, the new office will have a valuable asset: a growing movement, championed by both Republicans and Democrats, to improve program results and get more “bang for the buck” from federal spending through the use of evidence, data and innovation. The movement has roots in the Bush administration and was expanded by the Obama administration.

This is of course predicated upon total transparency, which has not been this administration’s strong suit thus far.

All of this sounds great until it is the programs that people depend on that get cut, writes Eric Schurner for the Atlantic.

The public — not just here, but everywhere — demands a wide range of government services. On the other hand, the public is unwilling to pay for the government it demands. Yes, that means taxes.

You can bet that this process will be painful, and will be met with resistance throughout.

The Business of Governing

There is no doubt that many of the ways in which we perform the duties of governing are antiquated, and should be looked at. Fresh ideas should be welcomed, and new voices given a seat at the table. The American people voted for change, and the spirit of streamlining government is well in line with that sentiment. But this change cannot come behind closed doors, by well-connected men who answer to no one. This is how Trump and his associates have always conducted business before.

By handing this highly important task over to his son-in -law, with no real accountability accept to him, can we truly rest assured that the American people’s interests are being served? Despite what Mr. Kushner may believe, the government works for its citizens, and must constantly prove that they are doing their job effictively, or they can be let go. That is how democracy works.

Private companies seldom function in this manner, which is exactly why the profit motive does not lend itself to the business of government.


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