I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying their summer.
I mentioned in last month’s newsletter the launch of the Partnership for American Democracy. I attended their launch event on July 1, and have closely reviewed the material on their website. Their objectives and initiatives are largely aligned with Speak Up for Good Government and they have much more “firepower” than Speak Up for Good Government. However, I strongly believe that the basic principles that I have articulated provide the most comprehensive framework for ensuring an effective and accountable federal government. Ultimately, I suspect that I will devote much of my good government efforts to supporting and promoting the work of larger, better connected and better financed organizations like the Partnership for American Democracy. However, I believe that in conjunction with that approach, I can continue to advocate for my good government principles, continue to provide information through my monthly newsletter, find and promote synergies between organizations, and recruit people to lend their support and expertise to our good government efforts.
To support this approach, I want to refine my good government principles. As a result, my focus for this month’s newsletter is to review and expand upon the basic principles I articulated in my first newsletter (also posted on my website). I would love your input on ways to clarify and improve those principles.
1. Free and fair elections where anyone that is eligible to participate can easily do so
This principle speaks to making it as easy as possible to vote, while maintaining the trust of the voters and eliminating the possibility of fraudulent outcomes. Contrary to what is playing out on the national stage and in many states across the country, access to the polls and election integrity are not mutually exclusive.
2. Availability of accurate and unbiased information to help drive voting decisions
I highlighted this principle under “Fact Checking” in my May newsletter. Simply put, all voters need easy access to accurate and credible information to help them determine their stance on key issues and help inform their voting decisions.
3. Shared commitment by all elected officials to problem solving
It is much easier to gain consensus on the problems that need to be solved than gaining consensus on the approach to solving those problems. Whether it is at the workplace, amongst our friends, or within our family, in most instances if we set our minds to solving a problem we find a way to do it despite different perspectives. Too frequently the legislative agenda and votes of legislators appear to be driven more by party loyalty and the next election than by the desire to solve the nation’s problems and do the work of the people.
4. Respect for and embrace of opposing views
Even in landslide victories, the losing candidate gets 30 to 40% of the vote. Simply put, this principle is about mutual respect. Basis behind this principle is incorporating feedback and incorporating ideas from both sides of the aisle and from across the political spectrum in legislative solutions
5. Legislative approach that allows for and empowers regional differences
Something that works in New York City is unlikely to work for rural Montana. Although I am still learning a lot about the approach to federal legislation, I currently believe that the focus of federal legislation should be on creating national objectives and empowering states and municipalities to determine the best way to achieve those objectives. Healthcare and education are great examples (e.g. reduce infant mortality rate by 20% or increase high school graduation rate by 20%). A few years ago I was struck by a story a colleague told me about the effectiveness of well-funded block grants in improving the quality of healthcare in Maryland.
6. Active partnership between the public and our elected officials
Although we all have the ability to email our legislators. I am very skeptical that those emails truly impact their votes. I am a huge supporter of the objectives of Voice of the People, an organization that is working to create citizens’ cabinets that would help influence legislators’ votes. I would like to see legislators actively solicit input from their constituents and have that input have an influence on legislators’ votes. A key to this principle is providing accurate and unbiased information to the citizens’ cabinets (principle 2).
7. Expert input on legislative solutions
This principle speaks to consistently leveraging subject matter experts and using data and facts to drive legislation. As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress is considering the re-establishment of an office to provide members, committees, and staff with analysis of complicated scientific and technological issues. This principle also recognizes the need to leverage the knowledge of industry experts to drive viable legislative solutions to difficult problems.
8. Strict rules to prevent conflicts of interest
This principle serves as a counter-balance to the “expert input” principle (principle 7). In the purest sense, lobbyists are experts that have a vested interest in a particular subject or policy. Conflicts of interest inevitably occur when those lobbyists also donate to candidates and political parties. Most companies have very strict conflict of interest rules with many having Compliance departments to investigate and help prevent potential conflicts of interest. The “ideal solution” is to eliminate money in politics/eliminate the need for elected officials and candidates for office to raise money to support their election/re-election efforts.
9. A shared commitment to excellence, leveraging continuous improvement principles to drive government effectiveness
There is a prevailing opinion that government by definition is slow and inefficient, yet government has a huge impact on everything we do. I refuse to believe that we cannot achieve excellence from our government. Government by nature is tasked to solve big problems, and solving big problems is essentially change management and Quality Improvement. This principle speaks to using tools and principles such as Lean and Six Sigma that are being effectively deployed throughout the private sector. This was a key component and rationale for my proposed establishment of a Congressional Office of Quality and Process Improvement (included in my testimony to the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress).
When I first published these principles, someone suggested including a principle about accountability which might include an active review of the accomplishments and voting record of individual legislators. I am a long time member of the American Society for Quality and have recently become a member of their Government Division. I will be attending an upcoming webinar on the development of a national standard on government efficiency and effectiveness. ASQ has also published a paper that advocates for the development of an electoral quality management system (i.e. objective standards for U.S. elections). I’m not sure if a separate good government principle that speaks to accountability and measurement of government effectiveness is needed, but standards and metrics should be an output of our overall good government work.
Likely themes for next month:
Update and review of timeline and objectives
Recap from ASQ webinar and more on how we measure the effectiveness of our government and the work of our elected officials