The United States Congress – both the House and the Senate – is failing.
How do we know it’s failing?
- Citizens should be considered customers of Congress and are extremely dissatisfied. In October, Congress’ job approval dropped to 13%, lowest since 2017 (source: HERE).
- Our country is bleeding money and Congress owns the Budgets. On 10/20 Treasury Department showed a nearly $1.7 trillion deficit in fiscal year 2023, up 23% since 2022 (factoring in weird accounting, that doubled year over year). People wrongly blame the president ofr this. In fact, departments (which would be like functions in a business) submit a budget to the President (who is effectively the CEO), the President edits and passes it to Congress (which can be considered Vice Presidents and Directors that are geographically organized). Congress approves it through 12 (!) subcommittees, which hold hearings. The House and Senate create their own budget resolutions, which must be negotiated and merged. (sources: HERE, HERE)
- Peer feedback from other departments is low. Timothy Wu, Biden’s special assistant for tech and competition policy said of Congress when he left the admin: “I came into this job a little cynical about Congress—I am now 10x more cynical. It’s a shameful institution in terms of their representation of the American public. There are so many things the American people want that Congress will not give them, and they’re supposed to be a democratically accountable body.” (source: HERE)
It is too important to fail.
We need Congress to work.
Curiously, neither the House nor the Senate owns hard accountability metrics that they are responsible for (they don’t own numeric goals on things Americans care about like jobs, costs, crime, housing, homelessness, carbon emissions).
However, fulfilling their general responsibilities is required for our country to function. These responsibilities include: funding government services, managing our budget responsibly, delivering government services, preventing destabilizing economic uncertainty, and maintaining healthy foreign relations at a moment where we have two active wars and arguably a civil war brewing in the US given the polarization on the US stance vis a vi Israel and Palestine
In any other organization or business, one of two things would happen with a failure this thematic and acute: a turnaround or disruption.
Either, there would be a regime change and new leaders who could deliver a better strategy, structure, plan and relentlessly execute against that plan to show real results moving in a positive direction.
Or, it would be disrupted by a customer-obsessed, often technology-empowered alternative (think: UBER/LYFT to Taxis, STRIPE to old credit card processing mechanisms, Gusto to ADP/Paychex).
But this does not happen in Congress, especially in the Senate because there is no Public Sector Innovation Ecosystem.
A root to stem turn-around or real disruption cannot happen because there is no ecosystem to fund, staff, support, or allow innovative disruption that would help us get on top of some of the bigger challenges we face. In the Public Sector, to get new leaders and thinkers that might be able to change the trajectory for citizens, there is no:
- Financing (no equivalent of the VC community that invests in series A, B, C “founders” or candidates to disrupt )
- Clearly understood institutional support for o (no natural community groups active in politics that support people moving from science, tech, business)
- Inclusive, equitable HR system (the hiring and development approach to Congress, especially the US Senate follows an exclusive and elitist rule system that ensures seats do not come open regularly (i.e., term limits) at an affordable price (i.e., campaign finance reports).
- Skills-First talent strategy (we do not have a path for talented leaders from outside politics coming into politics, so we get career politicians, lawyers, and billionaires )
As a result, we do not get innovators and disruptive thinkers with the skills necessary (i.e., operating, medical, science, manufacturing, technological, leadership skills) to take on the current major challenges we face: guns, climate, economic opportunity, and technology to name four.
As a result, we have the same old people, thinking the same old thoughts, doing the same old thing. We have older, whiter former lawyers who argue for a living and, not surprisingly, the headlines from Congress are often about individual members angry Tweets or in-fighting between parties.
Just check the news on how much coverage there is over arguments rather than the problems they’ve proactively solved for us – the people living in this country.
Or, more substantively, look at how the budget reflects the prioritization of science and technology as part of the solution to major issues.
While science and technology is not a silver bullet – for every problem you’re serious about solving, it’s highly likely science and technology can likely help.. The capability to leverage tech is concentrated in four agencies (Defense, Health and Human Services, Energy, NASA). There is a drop-off for every agency after that, including transportation, agriculture, environmental protection, education which suggests we’re not serious about using technology and science for strengthening education and skilling, increasing affordable housing, and supporting small and medium businesses to thrive.