Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Sit At The Table

January 4th

One of the things about the daily Internet conversation that is among it’s greatest contributions is the way that it can increase the number of “ahaa” hits per day.  (Before I am accused of indulgence there should be a spoiler alert: it gets worse.  I admit here that I take time off to read the Just Means news on Corporate Social Responsibility Trends, an admission that may someday cause Sarah Palin to revoke my John Lindsay for Mayor Republican credentials.  There’s absolutely no one chanting, “drill baby drill” at Just Means.)

So it is in the context of an honest diversion to read Just Means on Climate Change that I was introduced to Sheryl Sandberg.  I know, I confess that I am one of the last people on the planet to know that Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook.  That some people (like Fortune) think she’s one of the most powerful women in the world and that she was the head of on-line sales for Google when Facebook hired her (in her 30’s) to be the adult.  So, now that I have the embarrassing admissions out of the way.  Her TED lecture linked above on the dearth of women leaders is one of the most compelling videos that I have seen.

As I write this, I see that the video is only now being blogged by the Wall Street Journal this afternoon so perhaps I am just watching something that is about to go viral.  But it should.  My personal favorite comment is her statement that if you want to be a leader you need to take as seat at the table.

Yet it’s not as though I haven’t had my own opportunity to learn this lesson.  In 1994, when I was recruited to start e-businesses for the USPS, I found to my surprise that I could be the Post Office’s representative to Al Gore’s National Performance Review just by saying I would go to the White House.

(I should have recognized that this was a clue that, in the end, the USPS was not going to back the play to start electronic businesses even if the culture would help Marvin Runyon hire me.)

No one went to the White House because it was far easier to run an effective network if you stayed out of politics.  Going to the White House only meant becoming a cash cow to the Administration in power and the savvy leaders at the Post Office knew that there was a lot of that already.

Without competition for the invitation I went over to the White House to hear Al Gore talk about the meaning of telecom reform to representatives from places spread across the government.   When I arrived at the Indian Treaty Room in the Executive Office Building I made the mistake of asking the young aide standing in the doorway whether there was assigned seating.  She asked, “Where are you from?” and when told her, she asked that I sit in the seats along the wall because “the table is for the important agencies.”  I thought of myself as representing the largest civilian employer in the world and I was so offended that I walked around to the other side of the room and sat down at the table.

I was feeling pretty feisty until I introduced myself to the person on my right and found that the Librarian of Congress was already there with a seat at the table.

“Small Government Big Society”

October 18th

The headline that China is testing a new political model in Shenzhen is an attention grabber when it appears in the same newspaper as an article that finds that its reassuring that China is continuing to be the largest purchaser (ahead of Japan) of U.S. Treasuries. In the same month that China was demonstrating that it was only rebalancing its portfolio and not actually reducing its $868 billion in net holdings. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was giving a speech in Shenzhen (near Hong Kong.)

SHENZHEN, China—An experiment with political reform in Shenzhen, the city where China pioneered its economic opening, sheds light on an ideological debate playing out within the Communist Party as it holds an annual meeting in Beijing that will help to chart China’s political future.

Jeremy Page reports for the Wall Street Journal that

After more than six decades of stifling dissent—sometimes by force—the party is also using Shenzhen to test ways of strengthening public oversight of local government to root out corruption that the party itself admits has become the greatest threat to its grip on power.

It is a far cry from Western-style multiparty democracy, but this experiment—branded “small government, big society”—is seen by some leaders as a way to forge a new political model that maintains authoritarian rule while responding to the needs of an increasingly complex society.

The experiment involves free market reforms and government contracting with non-governmental entities to provide social services.  In an era in which China’s emerging economy is also reaffirming its role as our largest creditor new experiments in democracy are worthy topics for following closely.

Testimony on Capitol HIll

November 5th

Today I testified on revenue generating opportunities and the future of the U.S. Postal Service before the Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee that is concerned with the Postal Service.  See Testimony PDF

Overall, my argument was that the Postal Service and the mailing community can become a source of innovation that is an engine for creating new postal revenue through the creation of  public private partnerships.

To make the Postal Service viable will require making mail relevant to future customers.  This will mean connecting hard copy mail with the Internet so that it can play a key role in a multichannel marketplace.

But the new revenue for the public postal service is not going to come from making the USPS into an Internet services provider.  If that was ever an option, its time to say “that was then, this is now.”  Fortunately there are a number key opportunities for the USPS to create new revenue and new mail by creating partnerships with private firms. I describe three broad concepts – Enabling the Last Mile, Extending Democracy’s Reach and Promoting Green Routes.

Some highlights include:

By enabling the last mile I refer to the many opportunities that exist for putting technology in the hands of the Letter Carrier, in other words, on the doorstep of the mailing consumer.  One of the areas of greatest interest to mailers has been wanting to know where their mail is while its on route to its destination.  The USPS has been seen as a black hole compared with FedEx and UPS who have invested billions of dollars to enable their higher end services to “track and trace” and much more.

In addition, I argue that

A second broad theme that Chairman Ruth Goldway in particular has championed has been Vote by Mail.  The Postal Service can do this and provide many other government services as well.

Third, there are opportunities for the Postal Service to again serve the nation by carrying parcels that today cause three and four trucks to travel the same route.  We can reduce carbon emissions by creating Green Postal Routes.

What is needed is to create a pathway that connects the challenged Postal Service of today with a viable business model of the future.  The broad framework should be a public policy framework that encourages public private partnerships as the postal reform law of (’06) and the President’s Commission on the Postal Service (’03) proposed.

The details of new services to customers will depend on the trials and tests and an innovation platform that has yet to be invented.

The coming years could be an exciting time of transformation or they could be a train wreck.  The difference will be whether there is clear public policy guidance that can define the creative balance between what should be public and postal and what should be a public private partnership.