Back from Vacation

My wife and I just spent two weeks driving across the country- from my former apartment near Washington DC to our home in San Diego, CA. We covered over 3,800 miles, 15 states, 4 national parks, plenty of unbelievably beautiful scenery throughout, quite a few quaint restaurants, a small dog breeding farm and a very hot music spot. We saw old friends, met wonderful people, ate well, camped out, and spent a lot of time just the two of us together, talking, listening, watching in silence, hiking, feeling very peaceful. Throughout, it reinforced my internal conviction about the goodness of our country and how we must all endeavor to contribute to its future success. Beauty and abundance are all around us here. We must preserve what has been handed down to us and allow our children to inherit that which we are so lucky to enjoy.

I have been away from this blog while I was on the road. During that time, the country was undergoing another irrational political dance, this time around a default non-issue. My tenure at SSA has taught me that irrational political dancing is the norm. What was irrational (to me) at SSA? I looked at its modernization plan and I asked myself- suppose SSA totally succeeded in executing its plan- on time and on budget- what would the agency look like in five years? The answer I came up with is- not good. It would not be able to do the many things we all wished we could do, and administrative costs would still be increasing. I also asked those who made those plans the same question. Their response was that it is impossible to predict what SSA would look like in five years. Now that’s irrational. I was asking for the most optimistic scenario. Certainly, one would not proceed spending our hard earned tax money if one did not have at least some notion of progress in the most optimistic scenario. That’s what planning is supposed to be all about. But that’s not acceptable thinking at SSA.

We spent hundreds of people-hours arguing what IT projects should be funded, and never addressing the train wreck that we all knew is coming. I bet this is still going on. Why are we arguing whether tonight’s dinner should be fish or beef, whether tonight’s entertainment should be a movie or a dance, or if we should even have entertainment tonight, when the ship is heading towards an iceberg? The answer is that we are all doing another irrational political dance. This one involves the internal politics of a large government bureaucracy. The incentives and fear motives are so structured that the only way people feel secure moving forward is by avoiding the real issues, leaving them to whoever takes over next, and simply playing the game they are all comfortable with. The game is quite simple- just keep asking for more and more money and keep blaming shortcomings on lack of money.

Yes, I am back from my trip and as charged up as ever to continue the fight. We can actually achieve our dreams, deliver better services at reduced costs, make our employees and our customers happier, and create a Social Security for the twenty first century.


One thought on “Back from Vacation

  1. Why do we argue about what we know about (meat and fish) vs what we think we see on the horizon (the iceberg)? Because when the only tool (work-life experience) you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail!

    SSA has very good systems people (a few), very good engineers (a healthy number of programmers and networking folks) and very good program operations people (a boat load). But they don’t have many who are all three (or even just two). And I’m not sure the personality type for each side is compatible with assimilating the type of the others. This makes it difficult for someone who has come up through the system to make the leap to a “new vision” for the agency.

    That’s why agencies bring in new blood (like you). If you fit in and are high enough up to can start some radical change. If you start lower down the totem pole, one can only hope to promote evolution.

    I also recently returned from a vacation. It revitalized me for the coming skirmishes at the edge of change. Keep up the blog (and the good fight).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s