Plus ça change…

Every five years, Harvard offers its alumni an opportunity to write “a little something” addressed to the other members of his class and see it published. (And yes, by now alumnae and “her” class are included, but I graduated in 1962.) In 1992 the Thirtieth Anniversary Report from our class included the following two paragraphs from me:

“I was invited to join the [Presidential] transition team in 1988, and went to work for Sam Skinner at DOT, first as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget and now as the drug czar. We require 25,000 employers to test five million transportation employees for illegal drugs. Happy to discuss that with anyone who calls. Last year I cobbled together an 800 number, voice mail, fax service, and modem access to a drug regulations data base housed in Oklahoma. To our knowledge, this is now the best high-speed, broadband communications tool linking government with a regulated community. We did the systems work in seven months, a minor miracle in the government ADP circles. Call 1-800-CAL-DRUG and give it a go.

“Last year I also completed work on a new homeless support program, collecting $1.75 million from federal departments, writing a request for applications, and awarding grants to New York City, Baltimore, and San Francisco. This was sort of a ‘hat trick;’ there are advantages to becoming one of the ‘old boys.’ One program goal is exploration of ‘services integration,’ attempting to get the various parts of government to treat the various aspects of the homeless person as one problem set. The absence of ‘services integration’ accounts for much of the wasted effort in social service delivery today.”

During the past eighteen years we’ve seen quite an improvement in “communications tools linking government with regulated communities,” as well as with everyone else!

We have NOT seen as much improvement in what we then called “services integration,” and now travels under many other names. We talk about “stovepipes” on both coasts, and “silos” in the fly-over zone. We’re so stuck in our own stovepipes/silos that we can’t even agree on a single term of art!

And the design community talks of “jumping the fence” rather than “thinking outside the box.” I rather like “jumping the fence,” myself.

But will I become persona au gratin (that is, kinda cheesy) if I don’t keep saying “thinking outside the box?” That’s got me worried…

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