What The Coronavirus Is Teaching Us
By Carroll Robinson and Michael Adams
April 7, 2020
First, our governmental infrastructure is antiquated. Our regulatory structure was built for the past—it is not sufficient for the present and must become more flexible and dynamic to deal with the future.
Yes, we need the protection of policies and procedures, but they must not be so rigid that they end up causing delay, or even harm, in an emergency.
At the federal level of government, we must conduct a post-coronavirus review of updating our rules and regulations. States, counties and local governments should do the same thing.
Second, we must modernize government on a whole-of-government basis, both in terms of technology and also how units of government are organized, operated and interconnected.
Federalism, including both horizontal and vertical intergovernmental relations, must be restructured from federal constitutional reforms to new federal and state statutory structures as it relates to democracy, elections and the public’s health, safety and welfare.
Third, governmental communication and decisionmaking between departments and different levels of government still remains too compartmentalized even after our 9/11 experience and the reforms that emerged therefrom and have been in place for almost twenty years.
What we are seeing is that we need to review past reforms, at least, every ten years or even more frequently.
Not only do we have to fix intergovernmental communication issues, we also need to develop a better and more comprehensive and nimble system for better public, private and philanthropic sector communication and coordination during regional and national emergencies. The current systems and agreements are no longer good enough to deal with our new and emerging challenges. We are seeing that fact play out daily on TV and social media. Space also has to be made for integrating and involving the civic community through technology such as our social media platforms.
Fourth, there really exists no public-sector whole-of-government logistics infrastructure for the delivery of goods and services outside of the U.S. military supply chain, and even this is dependent on the private sector logistics and supply chain infrastructure. More concerning, we now know how fragile our private sector logistical system and supply chains are.
Fifth, it is not only public-sector employees who are essential workers and frontline responders. The private sector employees who constitute our food and healthcare supply chain are also essential to our nation’s national security and public health, safety and welfare sustainability and resiliency.
Sixth, public administration professionals aren’t and cannot simply be administrators—people who maintain the status quo and equilibrium of the administrative state at all levels of government.
We need public sector leaders who are innovators and big picture problem solvers.
We need public administrators who understand and can master the new forces of change that are impacting the public sector and its ability to lead, serve and exercise proper internal operational efficiency and effective external regulatory oversight.
Seventh, if we did not know it before, we know now. Public administration education needs to be modernized.
We need public administrators with more foresight and critical thinking skills developed and honed through a simulation-based problem solving education model that stresses innovation, creativity and mastering the art of managing the unexpected and the impossible.
We have to start educating for the Murphy’s Law of what can go wrong, will go wrong.
We need a new generation of public administration professionals who have more than just a grounding in academic theories, test taking and writing thesis papers, journal articles and conference papers that aren’t generally read or utilized by decisionmakers and far too often don’t prepare students for the real world of making government work as practitioners, whether they are public, private or non-profit sector employees or community activists.
Globally we need a new generation of scientific managers focused on the role of big data, data scientists and artificial intelligence in the art of governance and modernizing government to match, or exceed, the acceleration of change in the private sector so that we can withstand the shock of crises such as the one we are now experiencing.
The reality is that our public administration education model must modernize itself to respond to the new and evolving meaning of sustainability and resiliency.
Authors: Hon. Carroll G. Robinson, Esq. Dr. Michael O. Adams, PhD. Robinson and Adams are members of the public administration faculty at the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas.
Author: Bashir Kalyesubula