Got to thinking today after seeing another email from Marianne Williamson. Her latest note was about creating a cabinet level Department of Childhood and Youth. The content of her note was not what got me thinking….afterall, being a long time Fed, I know that a large part of the roles of both the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services are focused on childhood and youth.

Instead, my thoughts went to the question in my mind about whether or not our Executive Branch Departments were named appropriately for the 21st century. After all there is great power in names, they frequently serve as shorthand in our consciousness for the purpose and intention of the thing we are talking about. And, there is nothing sacrosanct about the department names….departments have come and gone through our history…and names have been changed as appropriate.

Consider that our military was under the “Department of War” until 1949 when it became the “Department of Defense”. Although one could debate the point about the reality of their focus, at least in the name our intention changed from waging war to acting in defense. Many have suggested that we need a new “Department of Peace” creating a focus on fostering nonviolence in the world.

I was a Fed when Clinton was elected and Vice President Al Gore focused attention on “reinventing government”. I embraced the idea as at its core was a number of concepts taken from W. Edwards Deming, the Japanese streamlining efforts and total quality management. At my agency, then the Health Care Financing Administration (now Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services), I became a champion for a number of actions designed to improve customer service experiences which not only benefited beneficiaries (i.e., customers) but also aided the development of my career.

However, the kind of reinvention I am suggesting now is a bit different. I think we as Americans need to stop and consider this modern 21st century we live in and the type of government we need to support the evolving nature of modern life.

Are our departments named correctly?

Is their mission appropriate for these times?

As I have frequently stated here: What we tend to focus on is what we tend to experience…..

In my book, Be Yourself Evolving the World Through Personal Empowerment, I stressed that one of the keys to our moving to a higher and better future for everyone was to determine a common vision for the future and to focus our attention and energy on that vision. We can disagree on the details of how to get to that desired future…and that diversity of thought is generally a good thing….but having a general agreement on some of the broad strokes of that future can be helpful in determining what we focus upon.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish…” (Proverbs 29:18)

It’s easy to get side tracked in unnecessary and pointless debates. One of those debates is the value of government in general. There is a large vocal group of conservatives who call themselves libertarians and push for as much “limits” on government as possible…frequently claiming that the ideal is little to no government at all. Frequently these same people try to scare the public by labeling progressive efforts under the name “socialism” and coupling it with some kind of boogeyman connotation. I wrote about this topic last year in my blog entitled “Should We Fear Socialism or Corporate Socialism?”

The bottom line is that neither extreme….no government at all vs total government control of everything is workable for us humans. And scare tactics aside, there are no real efforts by anyone out in the political spectrum working towards these extremes. In reality, there is a continuum along which we slide from one side to the other….less government to more government. And this is key—-contrary to the beliefs of many libertarians, government is not “bad”….government is simply a human tool that we use to meet human needs in living together….government is a system that we design and evolve to meet our cultural and society needs.

I am suggesting that it is time to let go of this debate about “no government” vs “total government” and instead focus on how do we evolve our human system of government to meet our 21st century needs?

Here are some thoughts to that end:

  • Do we need a group (permanent or temporary) that focuses on what we believe our future of America should look like?
  • How do we realign the spending of our government to focus on that desired future?
  • Do we want to focus more of our energy and money on “war”, “defense” or “peace”?
  • Do we need a department that focuses on children and youth?
  • Given the fast pace of technological change and the changing role of jobs and careers in the world, do we need a department that focuses on job training and retraining?
  • Should the government play a role in ensuring that every citizen has their basic needs met, freeing them to focus on their higher needs? If so, then what does that look like? If the government has no role, then what is our societal plan for dealing with the disenfranchised?
  • Given the rise and continued path of globalization, how does our government properly address maintaining our national sovereignty and local agency while supporting and working in a world that is so interconnected? …and how does the United Nations fit into that?
  • Should we stop and look at each of the agencies and departments and their visions and missions and consider how they need to be changed for the desired future?

…..what else would you add to this list?

Mark Gilbert

Photo by cmfgu on / CC BY-NC-ND