On the Job Training Doesn’t Work in Government

Ideas and Issues
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March 24, 2021

 Atlanta      President Biden is having a good honeymoon in his first 100 days in office, and, fortunately for America, we have something to show for it besides sweet nothings whispered in our ears or shouted at us on Twitter from the last guy living in the White House. This won’t last. Popularity and the polls go up and down, but there are some real lessons emerging from the early days of his administration. One is simple. Experience actually counts. It turns out it matters quite a good deal in actually running something as huge and complicated as the US government, our economy, our foreign relations, and the whole shebang. Ambition, ego, and desire turn out to not really be relevant in making all the pieces come together to make government work again. It now seems possible that you can move fast and not break things.

Biden and his team are good reminders that people can someday go to the theater or movies if they want to see drama, but they don’t necessarily want it in their daily diet from their government. We have whole days where we don’t even think about what Biden might be doing. That’s a change from the last guy. We can loosen our seatbelts on this ride. Appointments get made. Polices get enacted. Decisions are announced. When people die on our soil, they are mourned. Lower income people are not derided as crooks, and in fact people who aren’t rich turn out to also be important. Healthcare is extended. Vaccines actually get rolled out. Do we want more? Sure, always! But, it turns out to be very important that someone knows how government and legislation works and can make things happen.

I’m not saying that everyone who runs and is elected as president needs fifty years of experience, but I think we are all clear that the office of president is absolutely not the place for on-the-job training. Being a face on a TV show is not the same as running the country. Who knew? Everyone, it turns out!

My point is broader than former president Trump. When people talked about the esteemed Stacy Abrams as a contender for vice-president, I argued that it would be a mistake to go from a state legislature to the White House behind a 78-year-old president. There’s time for her. She knows it. Experience is important. Take Andrew Yang running for Mayor of New York City. Really? I interviewed Yang a couple of years ago about his guaranteed annual income proposal. This is not really GAI as we want it. This is a dressed-up block grant proposal where existing welfare and support payments would be mashed into a $1000 per month payment. We are dusting off the concept of cash transfers again and support for lower income families, so who wants to go backwards? My old boss at welfare rights George Wiley’s daughter Maya is also running and could probably explain that to him as well. Yang’s is a conservative proposal with a new twist, but either way some time in business and not in government doesn’t qualify anyone to run New York City either. In New Orleans, we lived through that with former businessman mayor Ray Nagin, but he’s in jail now. I could go on and on.

Government is not just big business. It’s big, but it’s different. It turns out you need to know what you are doing to actually serve the people. Ambition is not a qualification. Experience actually has value. To serve us well, you have to have more than ideas. You need to know how government works. Please!