Government as Government, not Business

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Media Outlet: Stanford Social Innovation Review

In light of Hurricane Maria, Hollie Russon Gilman wrote for the Stanford Social Innovation Review about innovations for the federal government's role in social service delivery.

Practitioners and researchers alike have spilled no small amount of ink on how precisely to define relations between citizens and states, and more narrowly on what role America’s federal government should play in service delivery. Indeed, the question of precisely whether and how the US government should deliver optimal services is not new. To address the size and complexity of governance, Former President Woodrow Wilson wrote in his 1887 “The Study of Administration” article: “There should be a science of administration which shall seek to strengthen the paths of government, to make business less unbusinesslike, to strengthen and purify its organization, and to crown its duties with dutifulness.” Bureaucracy and the professionalization of the functions of governance defined the Wilsonian era. The Progressive Era that followed argued for both a stronger government and government that worked for people to rein in abuses of corporate power and bring Americans a better way of life.
Relatively new, however, is the focus on innovation within government—a topic that has captured the heart of academia across many disciplines (including political science, public administration, management, and business) and has been taken up by many countries (New Zealand is often credited as an early modernizer, with the Thatcher and Reagan revolution not far behind). This spirit of innovation may provide the needed fuel to re-examine government service delivery in the United States.
But where to begin? In 1997, Professors Gerald E. Smith and Carole A. Huntsman created a framework that offers insight into today’s service delivery debate. Smith and Huntsman examine several core models of citizen-government relationships and ultimately question the idea of citizen as consumer. Their insight seems especially relevant in light of the election of Trump, a businessperson who ran on a campaign to operate America like a business. The Trump Administration has repeatedly called into question: Do people want America to run like a business? And if so, what are the values that guide this enterprise?

Author:

Hollie Russon Gilman is a fellow at New America. She holds a PhD from Harvard's department of government and is the former White House Open Government and Innovation Advisor.