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Growing Government’s ‘Sharing Economy’

There has been a lot of breathless excitement about the evolving “sharing economy,” where people can use services provided by others, like Uber and AirBnB . But the sharing movement actually started in the federal government in 1973.

That is the year the Agriculture Department launched the National Finance Center, a shared payroll services operation. Initially, it served only Agriculture agencies. Today, it provides payroll and other services for more than 650,000 employees at 170 agencies.

The shared services approach allows federal offices to move operations that are common across government to a provider that already performs those functions for other agencies. Typically, those services focus on administrative areas, such as financial management, human resources, payroll and travel.

According a 2015 study by the Partnership for Public Service, Congress authorized shared services pilot projects in the 1990s and passed legislation in 2002 to tap shared technology to improve support functions. In 2004, the Office of Management and Budget created task forces called “lines of business” to identify opportunities to reduce costs and improve services across common functions. These task forces later evolved into shared services. In 2014, shared services became one of the Obama administration’s Cross-Agency Priority Goals. As...

This Is No Way to Run a Government

As one of its final acts, the 114th Congress will wrap up with yet another continuing resolution. No one is surprised or particularly concerned; the only real debate seems to be over the length of the resolution—will it run through the April recess? Into May? Nothing about funding the government through the rest of the year. Think about that. It’s become “normal” that agencies must operate without budget clarity well into the fiscal year. But there’s really nothing normal about such a process, and as the Trump Administration and the 115th Congress prepare to take office, this is a good time to start thinking about creative alternatives to the fiscal chaos that has dominated government operations for the last decade or more.

First, let’s be clear. The advent of a “united” government does not, in and of itself, portend an end to that chaos. There are enormous philosophical and political gaps between Republicans and Democrats, as well as within the parties. Differences abound about how and whether to fund the president-elect’s proposed infrastructure initiative. Tax reform involves a set of highly complex and equally conflictual possibilities—not just between the parties, but within them as...

Self-Control Is Just Empathy With Your Future Self

You’ve likely seen the video before: a stream of kids, confronted with a single, alluring marshmallow. If they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, they’ll get two. Some do. Others cave almost immediately.  

This “Marshmallow Test,” first conducted in the 1960s, perfectly illustrates the ongoing war between impulsivity and self-control. The kids have to tamp down their immediate desires and focus on long-term goals—an ability that correlates with their later health, wealth, and academic success, and that is supposedly controlled by the front part of the brain. But a new study by Alexander Soutschekat the University of Zurich suggests that self-control is also influenced by another brain region—and one that casts this ability in a different light.

Press your right index finger to the top of your right ear, where it meets your head. Now move up an inch and back an inch. You’re now pointing at your right temporoparietal junction (rTPJ). This area has long been linked to empathy and selflessness. But Soutschek, by using magnetic fields to briefly shut down the rTPJ, has shown that it’s also involved in self-control.

Which makes perfect sense. Empathy depends on your ability to...

The Most Common Office Gripe is Extremely Basic

The most common office gripe is not about lack of receptive management, disregard for well-being, or difficulty interacting with coworkers. No, more than anything else, workers just wish they could control the temperature of their workspaces.

In a survey commissioned by the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and the Business + Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA), “Ability to adjust your workplace temperature” topped the list of office qualities with which workers said they were unsatisfied. “Temperature” also made the list, coming in fifth place.

Why is temperature such a common dissatisfaction? One reason may be that it is actually important to getting stuff done. An analysis of 24 scientific studies about the impact of temperature on productivity concluded that office temperature and productivity are indeed linked.

Another explanation for the high number of workers who say they’re dissatisfied with their office temperature situation is that it’s difficult to get right. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administrations recommends workplace temperatures between 68°F and 76°F. The UK mandates a “reasonable” workplace temperature and recommendsoffices set their thermostats to at least 16°C, or 61°F. But neither guideline is likely to keep everyone happy all the time...

Trump’s Risky, Off-the-Books Plan to Grow the Economy

When Donald Trump said he was going to build a wall and make the Mexican government pay for it, almost no one took him seriously. But there’s an important clue there about how he’ll run his presidency.

Just look at the deal with Carrier to keep 1000 jobs in Indiana. Trump is pointing to that as one of the big pre-inauguration deals of his presidency—and a sign of what’s to come. How did he do it? It cost $7 million—in tax breaks from the state of Indiana. There’s no federal cash involved.

Think about the other big mega-deals on the table. There’s a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which he proposes to finance through complex federal tax breaks for loans to be repaid over time by private borrowers. A trillion dollars worth of infrastructure that he says won’t add to the national debt.

Plans floated to repeal-and-replace Obamacare would provide federal tax breaks to citizens so they can buy private insurance. The Republican governors are lobbying to turn Medicaid into a block grant, which would give them more flexibility in the short run. But that flexibility would come with substantial long-term risk, as...

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