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Showing posts from July, 2016

How Over-Customization Kills Government IT

"I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV."- 1984 ad for Vicks cough syrup


Yesterday Scott Burns, the CEO and founder of GovDelivery (disclaimer: not an endorsement) published "The Elephant in the Room...Is Government the Worst Possible Customer?" on LinkedIn.


As someone who has worked for the government for more than a dozen years, and who frequently helps define requirements for government IT projects, I was interested to hear a vendor's idea of the things that are taboo to say.


His list of reasons why venture capitalists shy away from government as a customer, in brief: 1) excessive customization requirements 2) excessively cost-based decision-making and 3) excessive paperwork.

Overall I agree with Burns' assessment, and hope that the next Administration will take on the challenges he outlines. It will not be an easy undertaking, for the following reasons:

Excessive customization requirements are a mask for self-interest. Frankly, many departments, functio…

To Restore Trust In Government, Empower Federal Communicators

On October 8, 2013 the Pew Research Center for U.S. Politics & Policy released survey results showing that:
Most Americans (62%) had a positive view of federal workers (and a majority had a positive view of the federal agencies they were asked about)Almost none (19%) trusted the government itself "to do what is right just about always or most of the time."



Over the years I have received many email chains ("Fwd: Fwd: Fwd:") portraying the government as corrupt or inefficient while hearing verbal anecdotes of federal employees who went the extra mile to help out.

Clearly, federal employees are dedicated. The 2015 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, administered by the government's Office of Personnel Management shows that more than 90% of respondents "view their work as important, are willing to commit extra effort when necessary to get their jobs done, (and) consistently seek out ways to do better."

Feds are also committed to integrity and precision; th…

How They Squash You

In recent months I've had to de-friend a number of people on Facebook. I enjoy hearing diverse views but it has degenerated to this:"Well I know where you get your news.""The fact that you could even say that means you aren't worth debating.""You need help.""That comment is beneath you.""You're an ignorant idiot schmuck."How has civil discourse sunk to such low levels? A great article by Sean Blanda, "The 'Other Side' Is Not Dumb," explains it in terms of psychology, the "false-consensus bias." Essentially we are confounded when other people show signs that they don't think the same way we do.

On social media, being confronted by different viewpoints leads us to assume the worst. If you don't agree with me - well then you must be crazy!
"We and our friends are the sane ones and ...there’s a crazy “Other Side” that must be laughed at — an Other Side that just doesn’t 'get it,'…

The Two Faces of Donald Trump

It is very common for abusive people to compartmentalize themselves.

Last night there was a story on Quora about "the weirdest classmate you ever had." Someone wrote about going to school with a classmate who was brutal and sadistic because his father sexually abused him. The father was discovered online to be a pedophile. Yet this same man successfully prosecuted the brutal kidnap-rape-and-murder of two little girls, and was considered a hero.

Israel has a lot of movies about the Holocaust and dealing with the difficulties of reconciliation with Germany. There is this movie "Walk on Water" where the Israeli Mossad agent falls in love with a German woman. He is supposed to kill the Nazi war criminal and I won't spoil it for you but the whole thing is his moral dilemma over what to do in the present versus how to handle justice for the past.

In America 2016 we have the difficult problem of a Donald Trump candidacy. On the one hand there are those who say he's t…

10 Things To Do When Crisis Occurs [FCN]

This information was good fifteen years ago, and it's still good now. Adapted from: Communicators Guide for Federal, State, Regional, and Local Communicators, Federal Communicators Network, 2000, pp. 23-27. Information is quoted, condensed and slightly rearranged for readability and flow. 

THE DO’SCommunicate. Don’t hide behind “no comment.” Even if all you can say is that you don’t know, say so, say why and when you think you will know. Reporters look favorably on people who are trying to be helpful.Put people first. Communicate your concern about the victims. Help the people most affected by the crisis. In the case of accidents, remember to deal with victims’ families before any other group. If they want you to, intercede on their behalf with the news media.Be available at all times to respond to your various publics. Take your time in explaining difficult issues to reporters. Know media deadlines and don’t rely only on news conferences. Monitor media accounts and quickly correct…

Why Halacha Still Matters

Photo by Sharyn Morrow via Flickr (Creative Commons)
I still remember my Zayde’s (z”l) voice, how he never raised it even to the level that most of us would consider normal talking. Yet he was not a soft-spoken man either, because his words were words of steel. Zayde understood that I was not like other children. For one thing nobody could tell me what to do. This did not stop my father from trying, and as he had a natural tendency toward control it was inevitable that my neck would stiffen in response even if he said so much as “please come to the Shabbos table.” Family relationships are complicated. It bothered me to see how my father kept trying to win Zayde’s approval. I think if it were me I would have been very angry. But Bubbie (z”l) had been in Auschwitz and Zayde escaped from a Romanian labor camp. So my father kept his head down and diligently observed Kibud Av VaEm anyway. To a level that way surpasses anything I would consider obligatory. Regardless of the subtle discord I lov…

Communicating To The Truth Instinct

On November 17, 2015 the Department of Defense issued an update to its Joint Publication 3-61, Public Affairs, the second update since its original issuance in 2005.


(Unlike the civil service, which operates without a shared set of standards for public affairs, the military has developed clear and concise guidance about how this vital function is supposed to work.)

In reading the publication, my first reaction was appreciation. This is a very sophisticated document. For example, early on we are reminded to tell only the truth:
"PA [public affairs] personnel will release only accurate, fact-based information....Denying unfavorable information or failing to acknowledge it can lead to media speculation, the perception of cover-up, and degradation of public trust....Once an individual or unit loses the public perception of integrity, it is nearly impossible to recover."Of course, my second reaction was dismay. If the thinking is so good, how can the reality be so disappointing so…

Please Do Not Tell Me That You Are Colorblind

"Here in North Carolina’s third-largest city, officers pulled over African-American drivers for traffic violations at a rate far out of proportion with their share of the local driving population. They used their discretion to search black drivers or their cars more than twice as often as white motorists — even though they found drugs and weapons significantly more often when the driver was white.   Officers were more likely to stop black drivers for no discernible reason. And they were more likely to use force if the driver was black, even when they did not encounter physical resistance."

 - " The Disproportionate Risks of Driving While Black,"The New York Times, 10/25/2015

Racial discrimination is everywhere. So please don't tell me that you, personally are "colorblind" or that a movement such as "Black Lives Matter" is "racist."

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics' most recent survey on "Public-Police contact&qu…

Surviving Your Midlife Crisis

In the first stage, you do what you have to do. Hands over your ears, you march. Elementary school, high school, college, job and maybe grad school. Maybe the military, maybe marriage, maybe kids. There go your boots on the pavement. Do you hear the rain? That's about all you hear, in the protection of your uniform, as you methodically put one foot in front of the other, over and over again. In the first phase of your life, success means that you've made a commitment to avoid "distractions." You have to work, work work at whatever you are doing, and do the best you can not to look up. Inside the bubble you train your thinking mind to stop itself from thinking so very much. Like a pair of noise-canceling headphones, busy-ness drowns out the sound. Is it limiting? Sure. But it's also soothing: You don't have to deal with anything -or anyone. But what you may not realize, at that stage, is that your first phase of life is where you most resemble a caterpillar. Yes, y…

Taking Our Torah Back From Tyrants

I was done with Judaism and I was angry about being done and I was telling my aunt Renee all about it.

It was about seven years ago; that was the last time I ever saw her, before she made Aliyah to Israel.

We were not too far from the FDR Memorial in Washington, DC. Its words are from a speech he gave on March 15, 1941, nearly a year before Germany declared war on the United States and we responded in kind.

A fuller quote from the speech explains why Nazism was not only an existential danger but an ideological one. It is the sick idea that there are a few superior people who deserve to rule the many, and that if they have to do so by force then so be it.
"Nazi forces are not seeking mere modifications in colonial maps or in minor European boundaries. They openly seek the destruction of all elective systems of government on every continent — including our own; they seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers …

Nobody Can Believe This Manager

So there's this "Ask A Manager" Q&A that's gone viral, at least judging by my own newsfeed and the fact that Buzzfeed did a whole piece on it.

You can read the whole thing for yourself, because it's pretty interesting. But the bottom line is that this manager wouldn't let an employee take two hours off to attend her own college graduation (!).

Of course the employee quits on the spot, after effectively telling the manager off by providing her with a list of all the time she's covered for others.

The manager's question - seriously, she actually asked this - was whether she should do the former employee a favor and send her a letter chastising her.
"I want to reach out and tell her that quitting without notice because she didn’t get her way isn’t exactly professional."

There is more to the story, including the part where the manager implies that perhaps the employee doesn't know any better because she used to be homeless and a foster kid.

Of…

A Sad Day In American History

As a private citizen I am raising my voice in protest at this travesty of justice. There is only one law of the land. Not two sets of laws, one for the powerful and one for everybody else. While I support her candidacy as versus Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton should be prosecuted for gross negligence for her use of a private email server as Secretary of State.
___ All opinions my own.

Will You Declare Independence This July 4?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." - The Declaration of Independence, by Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President (1801-1809) There is explicit slavery and implicit slavery, and most of us are tied up in chains of some kind. Often we do not see these chains. Maybe we've been trained not to see them. Or somebody said that they fully ought to exist. The lesson of July 4 is that we have the right to live in freedom. It is not only a war fought and won nearly 250 years ago. It is an aspiration, it is a way of life, it is a global dream, and it is the ultimate American value.  We must fight for our freedom, and for the freedom of other people, every single day. We understand instinctively, very early on, that no human can be our true Creator, our boss. In the words of women's rights activist Gloria Steinem, we …