Reviews | Would the founders have applauded our management of Covid-19?

There is a lot that these 18th century inventors would have appreciated. American companies have developed or co-developed three vaccines at breakneck speed. Government officials approved them in record time. Taxpayers helped fund them both directly and indirectly. (Note that there have been vaccine attempts that also failed in trials and were abandoned, mostly without complaint. That’s good. It’s science.) City departments have gone digital from overnight so that building permits can be obtained and unemployment benefits applied for. States have found new ways to communicate with residents. In many cases, governors “followed the data” and closed and opened as new information suggested. The yellow school buses have been rewired with Wi-Fi for keep students digitally connected. Autonomous have even been reused to feed people. Citizen inventors facilitated the search for PPE and to get vaccinated. Frontline medical staff and those who have supported them innovated every day just to survive, then innovated to help millions more. In many ways, science, ingenuity and entrepreneurship have been mobilized to fight a threatening moment for society. The founders would be proud of it.

Along the way, however, there were also hesitations and illusions. The tests were too few. Large-scale tracing was too late. The digital divide was languishing. The summer of 2020 should have seen hundreds of pilot efforts to get more children safely into school buildings in the fall. Fall 2020 should have welcomed some creative ideas for getting vaccines up and running in winter. We should ask ourselves on this front why ideas like Vax-a-Million did not unfold until May and what other opportunities we missed to promote immunization to skeptical populations earlier in the year. Plus everything we’ve done to help, has helped unfairly, delaying efforts to make this country’s promise – that everyone is created equal – a reality.

The history books will say that we made up our way out of this pandemic, but not fast enough to save more lives and prevent more damage. How to better come on July 5?

First, we need to be more candid about the weaknesses of the current status quo. Now will be the time to make a realistic assessment of which of our utilities really work and who we claim to be. Thomas Paine started his Common sense who helped in the birth of the nation, “A long habit of not thinking about a bad thing, makes it appear superficial to be right, and at first raises a formidable outcry in defense of the custom.” There will be champions of custom in the coming months, but when it comes to public education, infrastructure, sustainability, public safety and workforce readiness, custom, in many cases, not enough. New York City’s shaky Elections Council has come out in recent days as a tired example.

Second, we will need to try new and innovative programs and services in a careful manner. There is more than twice as much relief money for cities and states in the US bailout than there was in the post-2008 stimulus package. The $ 350 billion funding is intended to be used to address both the public health emergency and the economic emergency it has caused, and the eligible uses of ARPA are wide-ranging. the federal guidelines this time use the word “flexibility” two dozen times. Mayors and governors have great latitude in how to spend this money. They should embrace the novelty.

It is not an invitation to recklessness. On the contrary, there is a skill set for potential government – the pursuit of new programs and services which, because of their novelty, can only possibly work – that minimize waste while maximizing learning. Public leaders should right now all the time, use them: invite more ideas. Try out new ideas partially before you develop them fully. Scale them up by harnessing government as a platform – that is, creating a base that others can innovate or connect to. GPS was a government project that sparked endless private innovation, largely for the public good. We are ready for our generation’s version.

All of these attempts to bring about the future will not succeed. Most new efforts don’t. The idea is that a few giant transformative successes more than make up for small failures. Commenting on the transformation of public safety in his hometown of Saint Paul, Minnesota, Mayor Melvin Carter said, “Most likely, we won’t get everything we need the first time around. He’s right, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as leaders are willing to recognize failures, learn from them, and move on.

Finally, we should tailor our public investments to the kinds of programs that pave the way for a better future. This means that federal agencies should act quickly to deploy the billion dollars for the technological modernization of the US bailout. This means that cities and states should grow their digital service teams, leveraging their relief funds (yes, investments in technology and data are allowed) and other funding sources. Making America fit for the future means supporting efforts like Code for America, Coding it Forward, The Tech Talent Project, and US Digital Response for the services they help provide and because they are attracting a new generation to the world. public service.

For too many years now, “a crisis is a terrible thing to wasteHas been the operational maxim of governments. What is not said, but it is not insane, is that change is impossible afterwards. Today we hear, crossing our fingers, a different statement: “Our agility will remain when Covid is gone.” “
I hope. It is not inevitable, but it would be quite American.

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