Transform Government: 5 Plans and the Secret Sauce
I am an independent candidate for President of the United States with a very specific platform: Transform Government and Build Peace. This means fix our broken government agency-by-agency and build peace here at home and around the world. In this article, I will present plans to transform government at the U. S. Departments of Justice, Veterans Affairs, Education, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development. I conclude with a brief discussion of “enduring mechanisms of coordination” as the secret sauce for governance in the 21st century.
Although this article looks at individual federal departments, my platform has a systems point of view. Governance is a living system: our challenges as a nation and the solutions to those challenges are deeply connected. A confused mission statement in any agency leads to out-of-touch priorities and botched policies and overreaching regulations written in obscure language that inhibits economic growth and violates personal freedoms all of which is then reinforced by the worse possible performance measures. Cementing in place the failures of government in America, agencies that should work together – such as Justice and Education or Labor and Transportation or even Defense and State – work instead in silos and without cooperation.
So, in place of solutions we have bureaucracies that grow poverty, lousy schools, unemployment, low wages, incarceration, a failing infrastructure and an outdated economy that makes warfare the only way to put people to work. I say instead: Transform Government and Build Peace.
Transform the U.S. Department of Justice
We have too much violence in America and we export too much violence around the world. Building peace here at home starts by changing the current mission statement of the U.S. Department of Justice, now organized around three words: “control, enforcement and punishment.” That mission will never solve mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipelines, community-police tensions or mistrust in law enforcement and our criminal justice systems.
My proposed mission for the new U.S. Department of Justice is “To reduce and prevent violence in America by building stronger communities, establishing true partnerships between law enforcement and local communities, and leading the effort to restore the full faith and trust of the American people in our police departments and justice systems.”
My strategic plan for Justice Reform includes prison, probation, parole, and court reforms. New priorities and important policy changes include: fund new training models for law enforcement to emphasize a national transition to community policing; stop the war on drugs and treat addiction as a medical problem; fund networks of community-based services for people released or diverted from criminal justice systems; stop funding “stop and frisk” or other programs that contribute to racial profiling; fund independent civilian oversight boards; build partnerships to fund all efforts for community engagement in community policing; provide tax incentives to businesses and organizations to train and hire ex-felons or anyone released from juvenile facilities; and fund “innocence projects” to secure releases for convictions based on biased testimony or compromised evidence.
Justice reform turns to community healing and community peacebuilding through face-to-face dialog between law enforcement and local residents. This means new funding to hire local organizations to facilitate dialog and to establish networks of neighborhood-based services. Supporting these reforms are new performance measures that track progress toward reducing incarceration, eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline, lowering re-arrests (recidivism) while restoring trust in law enforcement and American justice.
Transform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
The current mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” Right now, over 100 VA facilities are under criminal investigation so I’d say “care for” does not come close to hitting the mark.
The VA has an appalling reputation among veterans. A 2014 survey found 73% did not believe soldiers and veterans get the care they need; only 57% of new veterans even register for VA health care; and only 37% of female respondents felt positive about VA services. In addition:
- 22 veterans commit suicide every day
- 180,000 veterans are in prison or jail
- 1 in 6 (15%) veterans have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- 1 in 5 (19%) veterans have Traumatic Brain Injury
- Official reports say wait times are 3 days for mental health care and 4 days for primary care; a Congressman’s local survey found wait times were 64 days for mental health care (with 34% reporting no access at all) and 77 days for a primary care appointment
- A 2015 report found 867,000 veterans waiting for eligibility determination, of which Social Security records showed 307,000 had died!
- Recent reductions in this backlog are in part due to the denial of eligibility leading to more veterans filing appeals and now a backlog of 290,000 veterans waiting decisions on their appeals
- A recent lawsuit would force the VA to act immediately on appeals older than one year
- We have 200,000 active-duty women soldiers and 280,000 women veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Studies show 1 in 4 women soldiers face persistent sexual harassment or gender discrimination; 20,300 soldiers were sexually assaulted in 2014; and 1 in 4 women who used the VA system in 2013 screened positive for Military Sexual Trauma
- And the Pentagon still forces women soldiers to wear male combat boots despite data about increased risk of stress fractures!
My strategic plan to transform the VA begins with a new mission statement: “To provide world-class services and benefits to our veterans and their families.” Changing the mission would send the message that old standards of sloppy care are no longer tolerated, world-class services to all veterans is the new standard, and measures of success revolve around outcomes for veterans. This plan has six goals:
- Goal 1: World-Class Health and Mental Health Care
- Goal 2: World-Class Delivery of Benefits and Supports
- Goal 3: 21st Century Technology and Data Systems
- Goal 4: Organizational Excellence
- Goal 5: Strong Partnerships
- Goal 6: Performance Metrics Focused on Quality of Care
Honesty and accountability starts in the White House. A new Situation Room would track the performance and progress of all VA facilities (and all agencies). No-nonsense consulting teams composed of two veterans, a medical services expert, a financial auditor and a management consultant would go into each facility under criminal investigation to support the transition to new standards of care. Accountability means a White House that releases monthly progress reports to the veteran community.
The best plan in the world will not transform the dysfunctional VA overnight or even within a few years; there is too much incompetence and negligence throughout the culture of the Department. So the question is: “What single action can give the most immediate relief to our veterans?” I believe the answer is to fully and permanently fund an expanded Veterans Choice Program – allowing veterans to get health services from non-VA doctors – without restrictions. If some VA facilities have dwindling numbers of willing patients, then we consider elimination, consolidation, privatization or turning VA facilities into affordable housing for our veterans and their families.
How will we pay for expanding the Veterans Choice Program? The Pentagon has some responsibility for the mess at the VA and I propose transferring $17 billion dollars from Defense to the VA to fund the expanded Choice Program and to hire 100,000 veterans to provide mentoring services to veterans in need. That $17 billion is how much the Pentagon spent buying ammunition that was out of date or banned by international treaty or stored somewhere without access and for which the Pentagon is now spending $1 billion dollars to destroy.
Transforming the VA into a 21st century world-class service provider is a national priority and how we honor our commitments to our veterans and their families.
U.S. Department of Education
The U.S. Department of Education has failed this nation for decades:
- Of 34 industrialized nations, the US ranks 17 in reading, 20 in science and 27 in math
- The gap between school funding in poor versus wealthier districts has grown 44 percent since 2001
- Unfair funding leads to an opportunity gap for millions of young people
- Waste is widespread: for example, 13 different agencies fund 209 different science, technology, engineering and math education programs with 173 of those programs overlapping at least one other program
- Education’s compliance paperwork has been estimated to cost 93 million hours and $3 billion annually
- Every year one million young people drop out of high school
- 28% of students in grades 6-12 experience bullying
- 25% of students in middle school report unwanted sexual harassment
- African-American high school students are almost four times more likely to be suspended than white students; Latino, Native American and English learners are about twice as likely to be suspended
- African-American 4-year olds are 18% of pre-school students and 48% of pre-school suspensions
- And a federal Department of Education is not even in the Constitution of the United States!
My first day in office will include a “hard freeze” on the U.S. Department of Education – no hiring, no promotions, no bonuses, no travel. We will reclaim the $20-30 billion that Education wastes on not-performing programs (those with no results) and then carefully return those savings to states.
We will cut programs not people. The employees whose programs have been cut will get four choices: retire, join Teach for America, take an inter-agency transfer to help Veterans Affairs cut backlogs, or join a Plain Language team that is cutting red tape and regulatory overreach. That’s it – you retire, teach, help a vet or cut red tape.
What to do with the reclaimed wasted dollars? Help states close the unequal funding gap; fund free, quality, full-time pre-school for 4-year olds; support free community college; and eliminate interest payments on current student loans.
Transform the U.S. Department of Energy
The mission statement of the U.S. Department of Energy is bizarre and unbelievable. No one agency can possibly balance responsibility for nuclear weapons and lead our nation towards a future based on renewable energy.
The Department of Energy must be re-organized, splitting off all offices and laboratories responsible for nuclear weapons and nuclear power. I’d take the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) out of the Department of Energy – not because the NRC isn’t independent enough rather because the NRC drives the priorities and budgets of Energy in a way that favors industry and is biased against renewable energy. I’d have the NRC report to the White House Office of Science and Technology (OST) which is one of the rare offices with successful experience working on complex issues that cross agency boundaries. OST could provide better oversight on the very complex issue of nuclear waste. The NRC has made little progress while spending tens of billions of dollars in controversial efforts that many years of audit reports have described as lacking best practices in acquisition.
With that re-organization, we can begin a national conversation about the future of nuclear energy and “smarter” nuclear weapons. At the same time, the new U.S. Department of Energy would focus on building partnerships to define and implement a realistic transition to an economy and energy grid based on 100% renewable energy. The emphasis here is on partnerships across government agencies, with local, state and tribal governments and with non-government organizations.
Transform the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
The mission and strategic goals of the Department of Housing and Urban Development demonstrate quite clearly that when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. What does this Department do? Where was this Department during the housing crisis? Where is the vision and plan for eliminating homelessness? How exactly will this Department help states build partnerships that will dramatically expand affordable housing and build that housing near public transportation?
Skim through the latest audit reports of HUD”s Office of the Inspector General and take your pick of story after story of waste, fraud, incompetence and corruption in public housing. Legislation to provide stronger oversight authority at HUD is now before a conference committee; this may help manage parts of the current public housing crisis. The true solutions will require totally re-thinking the nature of public housing (currently inadequate and mostly sub-standard); investing in models of tenant-owned public housing; eliminating restrictive policies for “off-the-grid” and sustainable, non-traditional, community living; and establishing affordable housing as a national priority.
Coordinating Across Government Agencies
We know in the real world to get anything important done we need cooperation and partnerships. The same is true for government. Good government requires communication and coordination across agencies, across levels of government (local, state, regional and tribal) and with non-government partners.
The problem is federal agencies plan, budget and work in isolation. We even have laws and policies that prevent cooperation across agencies fighting cyber-terrorism. When agencies try to work together, there is no place in all of the federal government responsible for unified mission or integrated funding. The solution to this inefficient and sometimes tragic lack of coordination across agencies is to re-structure and transform the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to provide inter-agency oversight and support.
Problems cross boundaries and so must solutions. Only the shift from isolated bureaucracies to “whole-of-government” partnerships and performance networks will allow us to solve problems that cross agency boundaries. The secret sauce is composed of “enduring mechanisms of coordination” from inter-agency policy committees to citizen advisory boards. This is a structural transformation within the very nature and culture of government. It is all connected and the right actions will always be “whole of government” strategies.
I have traveled almost 30,000 miles around America in the past 16 months, listening and learning. I have heard over and over the voice of the people – angry and discouraged about our democracy and now frightened about our future as a nation. I believe the spirit of America is strong and the state of our union is fragile. I believe together – together in partnership – we can address every single national challenge.
Creating a new American century requires a White House that brings together people and politicians with different views to find common ground so we can move forward as one nation – one America! I believe we can do that and I believe that together we can Transform Government and Build Peace.