WaPo Pundit Contest: Sigh! (not even a bridesmaid)

You may know that the Washington Post is holding a contest for their next Post Pundit. Here are the first round winners.

Yes, I applied. No, I wasn’t chosen. Of course, I’m a “one-trick pony,” so I wasn’t too surprised. And if you’re reading this, you already know the trick…

They asked for a 400 word essay and a 100 word statement of why you should be chosen. See below. I’ve put links into the essay, and expanded the statement slightly.


How Well Is Our Government Designed?

Did Congressman Elton Gallegly (D, CA) ever think that his “Crush Video” law, protecting kittens and mice, would cause the stampede of elephants to the Supreme Court in United States v. Stevens? The elephants, from the New York Times and National Public Radio to the National Rifle Association, have paid lawyers handsomely. Would opening draft legislation to public comment via the Internet help prevent such unintentional consequences?

The government spent this spring “adjusting” the analog-to-digital TV transition process, addressing delays, communication problems, underfunding, and finally oversubscription. The program had trouble reaching poor, elderly, rural, and non-English-speaking citizens – those who really need emergency warnings. Did anyone know about Everett Rogers’ work on the communication of innovations?

The small staff at Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) gives tiny grants and focuses on policy and research. No surprise that the surge in coupon applications “crashed” their program. And so no surprise when the “Cash for Clunkers” surge crashed at another small agency, Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Memo to the Congress: Don’t give any shipbuilding contracts to Seven-Eleven.

The computer model for costing health insurance proposals at the Congressional Budget Office gets no third-party review of its assumptions or internal workings, according to a story in the Washington Post. CBO’s report to Chairman Baucus on its latest results has no confidence intervals, either. “Your mileage may vary,” as Phil Ellis says, but CBO is not estimating by how much.

Has the health insurance industry got better computer models that can second- (or third-) guess CBO’s? The better their models, the better their negotiating strategies.

Phil Angelides’ Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission faces far more difficult challenges than the Pecora Commission of 1933.  Computers and telecommunications have made the world’s financial system far more complex and more interrelated. And the financial industry has long been able to afford excellent computer modeling. If the Angelides Commission is to dredge its recommendations for loopholes and unintended consequences, it must have access to even better models. Otherwise, the industry will out-game the Commission every time.

Keeping the global financial system “between the ditches” throughout this century will require more than modeling. The Commission needs expertise in several post-WWII disciplines, including game theorychaos theory, and complexity itself.

‘Intelligent design’ deserves a seat at the table in Washington. The private sector is ahead of us again. See Business Week’s Special Report on Design Thinking.

As Jimmy Carter learned to ask, “Why not the best?”


My unique policy perspective: Thirty years a Fed, nineteen as a Senior Executive. Served in seven Cabinet departments, five agencies, and the White House under both Ford and Clinton.

I first wrote about ‘designing government’ during the Carter Administration in a paper now on my blog.

As a Deputy Director of Al Gore’s National Performance Review, I learned that private sector innovation must be continually infused into government.

Sadly, the Federal government only looked to the private sector for inspiration in an organized way four times during the 20th century: the Brownlow Committee (1937) the Hoover Commissions (1947 & 1953), the Grace Commission in 1982, and Vice President Gore’s National Performance Review (1993).

While with Gore I oversaw another report on program design. Same problems, twenty years later.

Harvard’62, Georgetown Law’72

Who’s Who in America (first listed in 1984)

Kennedy School’s Innovation Awards Program judge

Full resume here.

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