“Premonition”: Two points for the government

In the next few years, books on the COVID-19 pandemic will become a growing industry.The first one to get out of the gate is Michael Lewis Premonition.. Future books may provide chronological explanations of decisions and their consequences, but Lewis does what he does best. He tells an impressive “story” based on the direct experience of interesting people.

Lewis presents a pandemic from the perspective of three individuals. The three “heroes” in this book are Charity Dean, a public health doctor with experience working at the county and state levels in California. Carter Mecher, a Department of Veterans Affairs civil servant; Joe Delisi, a biochemist at the University of California, San Francisco. Each served to provide individuals at various levels of government with early warning about future pandemics. Looking at government achievements through the eyes of Dean, Mecher and DeRisi, there is much to learn. There are two important points.

First, American governance is messy, disorganized, detached, and awkward. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but Lewis offers a strong explanation of governance that should ensure that all government leaders seriously analyze how governments work better in the coming years. Lewis writes:

“One historian will look back and say how noteworthy it is that these strange people who called themselves” Americans “ruled themselves so far … all of this in the United States. There were small boxes of … each box became its own little frozen world, with little ability to adapt and little interest in what was happening inside the other boxes … one box was different It may contain a solution to the problem in the box, or someone who has found that solution, and that second box never knows about it. .. “

300 pages Premonition Explain what the government “box” looked like to Dean, Mecher, and DeRisi. Lewis also presents the direct experience of his three protagonists in 2020 and before the start of the pandemic. He pays a lot of attention to Dean’s experience as a public health doctor, writing: The top authority, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was not very practical for her. Lewis describes the outbreak of meningitis at the University of California, Santa Barbara. There, Dean was in charge of responding to and managing the crisis. He quotes Dean’s words. “‘I always told the CDC’ This is your job! Do your job! But after the outbreak of UCSB, my motto is,’Stop waiting for someone to come and save you. Please. ” Because no one has come to save you. “

The “box” problem has long been the subject of much academic research. There are many articles in the public administration literature on collaboration, networking, “widening boundaries” and more. There is no doubt that more research and conversation will be conducted on jurisdiction issues in the coming years. The pandemic provided clear evidence that our current intergovernmental system is not working. The United States has confused (to put it mildly) the pandemic so far, but there is a clear need for future improvements. Most of the first half of 2020 was spent with the Governor and the White House discussing which level of government is responsible for which particular activity.

Second, the use of informal professional networks, or “backdoor” bureaucracy, can be a powerful mechanism. Lewis does not label the ongoing communication between Mecher and his colleagues as a professional network, but the story presented by Lewis does show the power of the network. In many respects, the networking presented by Lewis is a response to the disjointed and separated layers of the US government.

One of the most powerful stories in Premonition It is the work of Wolverine, an informal network of seven doctors who have gathered for over a decade each time a biological threat emerges. Lewis writes: “MERS, Ebola, Jika: They were all behind the scenes and somehow involved in each of these outbreaks. What’s happening in the rush of phone calls and emails, and each one Trying to understand what to do to influence the situation and save lives. ”On January 8, 2020, Mecher emailed his former colleague Richard Hatchett, who worked at the Bush White House in 2005. You have activated the network by typing. Lewis states that Mecher and Richard “have never really stopped working” for the next 15 years. ..

As an expert, civil servants at all levels of government actually have two jobs. One works inside the bureaucracy and the other works outside the bureaucracy in a cross-border network of experts. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, backdoor diplomacy has long been a tool deployed by Foreign Ministry employees when they work. For civilians, Lewis describes a backdoor bureaucracy where experts exchange information, ideas, and contacts. Premonition It shows how this backdoor bureaucracy worked when the United States struggled to effectively respond to the 2020-2021 pandemic.

By email and phone, Wolverine said that one of their goals was to “find at least one state that would take the lead and develop a proactive response to the virus, and the social intervention outlined in the pandemic program. Is to introduce and create a domino. ” effect. “One member of the group knew and contacted California’s Charity Dean. Lewis became the first state to issue a stay-at-home order in collaboration with California Governor Gavin Newsom. Introducing Dean’s experience.

America has a lot to learn from its pandemic response. Without a doubt, many books will be written about how we have improved. Michael Lewis provided us with a good starting point for that discussion.

Mark A. Abramson is President of Leadership Inc.His latest book is Government for the future: reflection and vision for tomorrow’s leaders (With Daniel J. Chenok and John M. Kamensky).His email address is “Premonition”: Two points for the government

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