Congratulations, You Have A Plan – Now what?

It seems to me that if we want to get the economy back on track, we are going to have to do it ourselves.  So what is stopping us?

It appears that Congress has finally reached an agreement on the economic stimulus bill.  I am told this is great news.  I hope you will forgive me for not being confident that this package will re-start the economy and achieve all the results that have been promised.  All you have to do is look at the process that went in to making up the deal to see that the next steps are going to be challenging.

Don’t get me wrong, I support the idea of a stimulus package.  I believe that the President is doing everything he knows how to do to get the country back on track and that is economic team, which includes some of the smartest minds in the world, have crafted a strategy that they believe will work.  Congress is doing what it always does, fighting over details and trying to protect their own interests — but even in this case, they haven’t done too much to muck up the plan (aside from cutting the funding for the arts, education, and similar projects that were likely to have a great impact on the economy and society as a whole – but I’ll save that rant for another post, another time).

What I don’t have confidence in is our ability to execute.

Massive amounts of money are going to be handed out all across the country – and if history dictates, that money will be wasted, mis-applied, or in some cases not even spent.  Thousands of ‘shovel-ready’ projects are going to begin, some within days or weeks.  Checks are going to arrive in people’s mailboxes within months.  But the President isn’t going to convene a conference call each morning to make sure that all the Governors are prioritizing the right transportation and infrastructure projects.  The treasury department isn’t going to put together a Microsoft Project plan to make sure all the funds are used efficiently.  Members of Congress aren’t going to spend time meeting with project leaders to help them think through different challenges and how to overcome them.  Nobody is going to sit at my kitchen table and help me decide whether to buy a new flat screen television (to pump money back into the economy) or put the check in my bank account (because I don’t have confidence that things won’t get worse before they get better).

For the stimulus to succeed, we need great project managers.  For America’s economy to get back on track, we need operationally-minded people who can take a good plan and ensure that it is put into action in an organized, and effective way.  We need them at the state level.  We need them on every project that gets green-lighted as a result of this new funding.  We need them in every American family, so those hard-working Americans can make an informed decision about whether the tax break they receive should be spent, or saved, or invested.  From experience, I know there is a shortage of people who can make sure the execution of a project goes smoothly.  Recent history, with the bank bailout – and, well, just about every government program we have seen in the past several decades – would suggest there will be major hiccups, no matter how good the stimulus plan is.

As a result, no, I am not confident in our ability to use the $798 billion dollars that Congress will approve as a part of this stimulus plan effectively.

So here is a thought… in a connected society, when we have tools that allow people to share ideas and coordinate efforts – what if we manage the stimulus rollout?  If we believe so strongly that the community has capabilities that the institutions of power do not possess, then why don’t we take ownership over the fixing of our nation?  We’ll still need leadership from the President, oversight from the Treasury department, and bloviating from Congress to guide and direct us on what, at a macro level, is likely to have the greatest impact.  But why should we expect politicians and government bureaucrats to know how to build roads, fix schools, when they know nothing about that work?  Why should we expect the President and Congress to help us make smart choices about how to balance our checkbook when they can’t balance the nation’s?  When it comes to the details, we should be in charge.

Planning is easy. Execution is hard. The people are available and the skills exist across the country to make sure that stimulus money is applied well and the projects run smoothly.  But the systems we are using to manage these efforts are old, and outdated.  The tools exist, and are being used every day to innovate the way we address social issues, build businesses, and bring communities together around shared interests.  But the understanding, knowledge, and comfort with those tools in the leadership positions that will determine how the stimulus money is spent is sorely lacking.

The keys to a successfully stimulating the economy of the nation will be found in the details.  And the community should own the details.

You may also like