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VA’s Baker says: “Practice random acts of defying bureaucracy.”

Roger Baker, chief information officer with the Office of the Deputy Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, is drawing on Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 folk song “Alice’s Restaurant” for inspiration these days.

At the AFCEA Bethesda Chapter’s Outstanding Achievement Awards luncheon on May 13, Baker, who is also assistant secretary for Information and Technology at the VA, called upon government employees to “practice random acts of defying the bureaucracy,” taking a cue from Guthrie’s 60s war protest song.

Baker received The Outstanding Achievement Award for a Civilian Executive. He returned to government a year ago after a stint as chief executive officer of Dataline LLC, an IT services and integration company. Prior to his work in the private sector Baker was CIO at the Department of Commerce.

Upon his return, Baker started to think about “why change in government is so hard?”

The issue is bureaucracy, he said.

For example, he described receiving a letter about a rehiring issue from a veteran dated Nov. 28, 2009. Now in May after going through the various channels it finally showed up on his desk for a response. “I can’t believe it took six months,” Baker said, adding that he responded right a way via e-mail.

“We have to find a way to break the bureaucracy,” he said. And that's when he began to paraphrase Guthrie's song, particularly a section toward the end where the singer urged draft resisters to walk into the military psychiatrist's office, "sing a bar of 'Alice's Restaurant,'" and walk out.

If it’s just Baker, people might find it amusing and dismiss him, Baker said.

If its two people – say Baker and his deputy Stephen Warren – then they will think it’s just two IT guys and ignore them.

If 10 people do it, then the powers that be might say, “What’s going on here?”

And if a roomful of people look at where the bureaucracy doesn’t make sense and defy it – well, then, that’s a movement. “The Alice's Restaurant Better Government Movement,” Baker said.

“We are the government. We should want to change it,” he added.

Baker was honored at the AFCEA luncheon for his leadership in helping to change how the VA handles and deals with veterans – from the start of their careers to their final resting place.

The AFCEA Bethesda Chapter’s Government-wide Initiatives Excellence Awards are presented to individuals or group of individuals who have made outstanding contributions to activities which are significant beyond their agency or organization.

Posted by Rutrell Yasin on May 14, 2010 at 12:10 PM

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Reader comments

Fri, Sep 17, 2010 David Reno

What a bunch of hogwash. How many VA employees will practice this and be fired for doing it? This is very bad advice and I say that as a 22 year veteran of the Federal Government and a Union officer.

Fri, Sep 17, 2010 Steve Anglin Big Spring, Texas

I want to be a part of that room full of people that is part of the "Alice's Resturant Better Government Movement"

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