It is extraordinarily difficult to change bureaucracies and the bureaucrats who work in them. Again and again, we have seen presidents and members of Congress start out boldly, using big words to dramatically describe big ideas, only to have the ideas disappear in the impenetrable resistance of career bureaucrats. The dense thickets of regulations they have cultivated over the last 80 years make management and change virtually impossible.
The resistance of the bureaucracy is reinforced by the tenacious and pervasive lobbying and media campaigns executed by the defenders of the old order. I wrote in my book "Breakout" about “pioneers of the future and prison guards of the past.” Huge corporations and wealthy special interests that have been dominant and want to avoid change behave precisely like prison guards of the past. I
n virtually every sector of federal activity, there are companies and institutions that have lobbyists and apologists who oppose real change.
President Trump has run enough big businesses that he understands that real effort must be put into challenging the failed systems of the past. Translating the bold vision of President Trump into practical reality takes enormous effort and focus. In areas such as going to the moon and defeating Huawei and the Chinese strategy to implement 5G globally, the old order will want to avoid change.
Vice President Mike Pence has been a governor who had to implement practical changes despite the bureaucracy and the interest groups. In a recent speech to the National Space Council in Huntsville, Alabama he outlined a series of powerful principles for reforming the government.
Pence’s first principle is to establish a big goal and then stick to it. As he put it in his remarkably bold and direct challenge to NASA, “failure to achieve our goal to return an American astronaut to the moon in the next five years is not an option.”
Pence’s second principle is to be prepared to reach outside the traditional bureaucracy to new entrepreneurial private companies, if necessary, to get the job done.
The vice president told the NASA-Boeing bureaucracy, “we’re not committed to any one contractor. If our current contractors can’t meet this objective, then we’ll find ones that will. If American industry can provide critical commercial services without government development, then we’ll buy them. And if commercial rockets are the only way to get American astronauts to the moon in the next five years, then commercial rockets it will be.”
This principle could be immediately applied to change and streamline the rules bureaucrats are using to dole out work. One of the reasons the same stable of big companies always get government contracts is because they are the only ones with the knowledge and resources to navigate the web of red tape.
Imagine if we looked for new suppliers and new companies across the federal government to get faster, better, more efficient, and less costly solutions in health, learning, infrastructure – and every aspect of the federal government. Imagine if the Department of Defense was this aggressive in reaching beyond the old supplier base to new entrepreneurs. The achievements and savings would be stunning.
Pence’s third principle is a willingness to change the bureaucracy rather than abandon the goal. He recognizes that a new mindset must compensate for a lack of funding.
In fact, I would argue that a new mindset is necessary because pouring money into failing systems simply leads to more expensive failures. Inner city schools are a tragic example; they cheat children of a proper education while avoiding accountability. Pence said in Huntsville that “we will call on NASA not just to adopt new policies but to embrace a new mindset. That begins with setting bold goals and staying on schedule.”
At every level, America would be greatly improved by Pence's principles.
The vice president’s fourth principle is a determination to change the bureaucracy in fundamental ways. As he asserted at the National Space Council: "NASA must transform itself into a leaner, more accountable and more agile organization. If NASA is not currently capable of landing American astronauts on the moon in five years, we need to change the organization, not the mission." This principle of transformation can be applied to essentially every aspect of the federal bureaucracy.
Given the work I have been doing on the challenge of 5G and the Chinese dominance through Huawei, I really appreciate Pence’s fifth principle, which is a sense of urgency to push through needed changes. As he warned: "What we need now is urgency ... it’s not just competition against our adversaries; we’re also racing against our worst enemy: complacency."
If we could defeat the telecom complacency and the bureaucratic inertia, we could regain the lead in the implementation of 5G. If we allow the arrogance of the big, old established systems and the stubbornness of the bureaucracy to prevail, we will presently have a Chinese Internet and terrible consequences for our freedom.
Pence’s five principles should be applied throughout the federal government. They would be excellent principles for Congress to apply in conducting oversight. Many governors and mayors could apply them as well.
At every level, America would be greatly improved.