Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thomas Jefferson; A Simple Man?

I recently finished the book, “The Real Thomas Jefferson” and there were many things about his political philosophy that were, and remain critical to our success today, but one thing stood out as I look at the world today; simplicity. Even though he was a trained and skilled lawyer, he believed in simple language when it came to legislation. He spent time “de-lawyering” many laws in Virginia and was extremely suspicious of complex schemes in the Federal Government.

As I look at my candidacy for Governor, I often wonder why we have so many things in government that are complex? For example; why can’t the education formula for Colorado simply tie one amount to a student, whatever that is, and we can argue the amount, say $10,000 for each student (K-12) goes to whatever school they choose. Why doesn’t that work?

I have been to Government conferences in my private sector work and have attended classes designed to help people understand the complexity of government contracting, whether buying computers, aircraft, or pencils, the process is overwhelming and often teams of people are needed to sort it out. Why?

It comes down to two things when I sift through the complexity; trust, and trust. Contracting with the government is so complex because the people managing the contracts are not trusted to apply fairness in the process whether it is creating specs or awarding bids. And politicians want their friends to get the contracts and have in the past “rigged” the process, and so in order to guard against insider awards, a complex maze of regulations was created. And then there are the targeted, set aside contracts for specific groups of people that throw in even more complex specifications. In all this complexity the components most important in a contract for product or services gets lost; quality and price.

No one trusts the government anymore and there is example after example of fraud, abuse, and incompetence, but we only hear about the evils of business and the private sector. The private sector abuses are punished by market forces that can run private companies out of business. Government abuses seem to be tolerated, ignored, and often rewarded with more work or funding. But the reality is that the more complex anything is, the more opportunity for abuse. When we simplify, and people can understand why something is done a certain way, they are more likely to support an initiative.

Thomas Jefferson was in no way a simple man, but he understood that simple was better when you were dealing with government policy and building trust with the American people. Wanting things to be simple doesn’t make you a simple man; it makes you a genius. Just read about the life of Thomas Jefferson and I think you will agree…

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