I once knew a British man who worked in security for royal families and VIPs when they visited the British Isles. He told me of a client who gave him a large denomination pound note to use in a McDonalds in Ireland. When the cashier — and eventually the manager — told him they didn't have enough money in the till to make change, he went back to the limo and told his client, who instructed him to tell them they could keep the change, which might have been more than the manager's weekly salary.
This led me to thinking about the stimulus packages. Specifically, how federal agencies prepare for dealing with their individual stimulus requirements.
My new favorite reality show is now in full swing. Agencies are being given piles of stimulus funding and being instructed to spend it by September, without having the infrastructure or past experience to deal with it. For many — all? — this is the first time they have ever experienced anything like this. In fact, for many of us, this is a new situation. I can't recall the last time I had more money than I was prepared to spend, other than the time I got sick on the extra large container of malted milk balls I had purchased.
I imagine any agency is prepared for an influx of funding, even if it's in their fantasies, and I also imagine each agency is prepared to make quick procurement decisions — having a to-do list — but on a much smaller scale. How do agencies practice for the perfect storm of large funding with a spending deadline? Do they have all employees undergo "spend more money than you've ever had before as fast as you can" training?
Haven't we all worked at one time for a company or government agency where we were told we had to "use up our budget, or else we won't get the same amount budgeted for next year?" (You haven't? Then I have a couple extra job experiences to average out for yours.) Can you imagine this thinking applied to this situation? Is it even possible that some company or agency will return stimulus funding? I'd pay attention to see if any agency personnel suddenly are outfitted with new iPhones.
But, getting back to my original thought (there was one, I'm pretty sure), how do you train for a project or situation that has had no precedent in your agency? Do you give random employees $5,000 for lunch, with the stipulation that they don't bring back change? Do you go to Wal-Mart with a stopwatch?
And then there are the mistakes. Mistakes are going to be made. But in this climate, with the intense scrutiny every expenditure is undergoing, people are afraid of making mistakes or — worse — being caught making mistakes. This may be the biggest potential hazard — fear of bad publicity may create cautious, non-innovative moves. If you're given $5,000 for lunch, don't bring back 2000 Happy Meals. (Or, 909 if you get the six piece chicken and upgrade the drink to a shake).
On the bright side, I don't think any federal agency management has to worry about dealing with the public stigma of receiving large bonuses.
Posted by John Klossner on Apr 15, 2009 at 12:18 PM0 comments
I was looking at the future of technology hardware while thinking about the Fed 100 awards. One thing noted in this year's 20th anniversary of the awards was the growth/change in projects over 20 years. For example, in 1991, a project was awarded for running an electronic bulletin board on air quality information using a 386 PC with 700M of data. This year, someone won a Fed 100 award for making hurricane and weather data available in Second Life.
Could anyone have imagined, 20 years ago, that in the future you would be able to go to another "world" and get the weather?
(As an aside, does this mean weather data for the real world? Or weather data in this virtual world? I wonder if anyone dressed for the wrong world. And if, as I imagine, it is for the real world, does that mean viewers go to a virtual world to get information on the real world? Oh, my head hurts. I'm going to go curl up with my rotary phone.)
When I was a kid, it it seemed like we were focused on the future. The first moon landing had just taken place, "The Jetsons" was a popular TV show, and imagery and fantasies about the future seemed to be everywhere. What would it be like? Where and how would we live? For some reason, a picture of the Osmond family gathered around a large television viewing screen drinking Tang sticks in my head, and that particular image of the future seems as outdated as the actual world of that time does to us now.
With such a large change in projects over the 20 years -- in sophistication of systems, amount of data used, the devices we access the information from -- it would be almost foolish to predict what kinds of projects get awarded 20 years from now. And it would almost certainly seem that when that time rolled around the predictions would look as outdated as my Tang-drinking-family-gathered-around-the-giant-TV memories.
With that in mind, here's a stab at highlights from the next 20 years.
- * 2011: All federal employees are required to participate in a social network. The most popular social network now consists of federal employees complaining about being required to participate in a social network.
- * 2013: The Office of Luddite Affairs is established as a federal agency. Formerly known as the Labor Department (just kidding, guys).
- * 2014: Thriving underground market causes agencies to allow employees to create virtual management legally.
- * 2015: Second Life avatars have better health insurance coverage, with dental, than real-life counterparts.
- * 2017: Software is developed allowing personnel to hold two or more full-time positions at one time. Software is also developed allowing agencies to identify and pay multiple position personnel one salary.
- *2020: All virtual employees receive pay upgrades. They will be paid in currency with image of current technology czar Larry Ellison on it.
- * 2022: Entire agency can be recreated on a chip, which will be required to be implanted in employees. Legislation is passed requiring employees to pay for agency chips implanted in bodies.
- * 2025: The virtual DOD Christmas party is better than the actual DOD Christmas party.
- * 2027: Chips implanted in bodies of employees now let them know what the special of the day is in agency cafeterias.
- * 2029: Web 35.0 technologies now gain favor in federal circles. All employees at G-9 and above are allowed to disapparate. They refer to Web 34.0 technologies as "so old school."
Since predicting the future is a no-lose situation, please feel free to submit a few of your own.
Posted by John Klossner on Apr 06, 2009 at 12:18 PM0 comments
I have to admit to a little disappointment in this administration's efforts to provide transparency in the stimulus spending. This is a group of folks who have shown themselves -- through the long campaign and in the short time they have been in charge -- to be tech-savvy, innovative and in touch with the culture of communications. Their plan to publicize the stimulus plans through their website, Recovery.gov, is nice but falls far short of what we've come to expect from people fully aware of the capabilities of a Web 2.0 world.
Especially when the situation so clearly cries out for a reality television show.
Think about how many problems this could solve. Besides making the stimulus data accessible to more non-technology-abled citizens, it would bring families and communities together as they congregate around the newest must-see TV to watch where their tax dollars are going. It could help shore up whatever network it appears on, giving a much-needed boost to the dying television industry (one would probably assume that this show would be on PBS, but I propose that it rotates, with whatever network has the lowest ratings each rating period gets this show for the next one).
In addition to making the stimulus data accessible to more people, this show would generate rooting interests in the spending itself. It could provide an education opportunity, as children would join their families to watch, and indirectly learn about the economy.
Here are some of the specifics I've come up with for my pitch so far:
Working Title: Follow the Money
(Other possible titles: Nickel and Dimed, Trickle Down with The Donald, Brother Can You Spare a Trillion?)
Host: This is my biggest challenge. I'd like someone with entertainment value who has a "widely diverse" history with personal finances. Donald Trump comes to mind, but he is already overexposed, and it might make take away from the show's potential seriousness (although it would make for a great running gag of him trying to take some stimulus money for himself every week, and getting caught in a variety of embarrassing situations). Mickey Rourke might be a good fit, as he is the current celebrity face of recovery and comeback, but that would run up production expenses by having to hire extra editors. The show might be better served by having a hosting team comprised of an economic expert and an unemployed non-celebrity who, based on his financial experiences, can connect with the viewers. (Added bonus: The non-celeb will now have a job.)
We could also have a lead-in reality show featuring discredited financial executives, whose companies have gone under, trying out for the hosting position on our show. A simple "start with 13, whittle down to one or two" format -- another possible network boost. (Note to self: develop pitch for another new show which will follow the prison careers of the losers on this show.)
(Note to self: If Bernard Madoff says yes, forget other host possibilities.)
Sponsorship: This show should not overlook the revenue possibilities of advertising. I propose a mixture of local and national advertising, but no ads from AIG.
(Note: could we use station breaks for economic educational tidbits? Vocabulary, trivia, music videos? Think "Schoolhouse Rock" for adults. Just an idea.)
Setting: The show is set in one of two locations -- Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. This allows us to have a shot of a container of money being thrown over the precipice when we cut to another scene. (Note: make sure the bills are loose, so the image includes a cloud of bills flying in the air as the container goes out of sight.)
There will also be a prominently featured monitor, with a graphic depicting how the various markets are reacting to the spending proposed on the show. With lots of sound effects.
Contestants: A fed agency rep, a Fortune 500 executive, a bank official, a local official, and an unemployed school teacher.
Premise: Each contestant starts with 50 million dollars. With this as a budget, they create a proposal for how they would use the money. They produce a video of the project, which gets aired on the show. (The administration can archive these on recovery.gov, since they paid for the URL.) After viewing the videos, the studio and viewing audience get to vote (background music: "We're in the Money") on which contestant's project / proposal is the best. Contestant getting the fewest votes is eliminated, and receives one million dollars in pennies as a parting gift. (Note to self: develop pitch for new show which will follow the prison careers of these people.) The remaining contestants move on to the second round, where they get a 100 million dollar budget. This continues (with the budget doubling in each successive round) until there is one remaining contestant, who enters the final segment, called the "Checkout Line," which is comprised of having to spend one billion dollars in 3 minutes.
(Note: Between rounds, feature biographies of each contestant are aired. These will include a look at the best and worst financial decision they've made in their lives.)
The "Checkout Line" has extra excitement. The home and studio audiences have instant feedback capabilities, allowing them to shoot down any proposals they don't like in this round. They have also been notified that they will get to split amongst themselves any money that is not spent in this round, ensuring that the final contestant will try to spend as quickly as possible, before the audience can stop them.
The winner gets to spend what money they have left and return on the following season's show, if they are not incarcerated in the meantime.
(Note: if successful, I can envision this format being used at local levels, featuring state officials, local officials, etc.)
As you can see, this idea is still in its incubation phase. I appreciate any comments or suggestions that will assist in its development.
Posted by John Klossner on Mar 17, 2009 at 12:18 PM2 comments