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Use Your Head: Don’t Be Seduced By Technology

On October 5, 1960, the United States almost went to war with the Soviet Union.

In the previous spring, the U.S. had begun installing its Ballistic Missile Early Warning System in Thule, Greenland. The purpose of BMEWS was to warn the U.S. of a Soviet missile attack. And by early autumn, the Thule facility was operational.

Just in time. On Oct. 5, Thule’s radar reported that dozens of missiles, apparently launched from Siberia, were headed towards North America. NORAD headquarters in Colorado was immediately notified, where, above a map of the globe, a number flashed, indicating the level of the threat. It started at 1, the lowest level but soon advanced to 2, then 3, next 4, and finally 5—the maximum threat level, which meant there was a 99.9 percent chance the United States was being attacked.

Within minutes, the Air Force had to make a decision.

Fortunately, NORAD’s vice commander, the highest ranking officer at headquarters, asked a useful question: “Where’s Khrushchev?” The question was easy to answer. He was at the United Nations in New York. It didn’t seem likely that the U.S.S.R. would attack the U...

Only Long-Term Planning Can Counter Short-Term Thinking

In 1996, Congress required the Defense Department to begin conducting quadrennial defense reviews centered on plausible future national security scenarios and to assess the effectiveness of different approaches for addressing those scenarios. These reviews, which project 15 to 20 years into the future, are conducted every four years to inform Defense strategic efforts.  

In a new report for the IBM Center, Dr. Jordan Tama, at American University, assesses the use of quadrennial reviews by Defense and three other federal departments. He observes: “the QDR is generally viewed more favorably by policymakers outside of DOD than by defense officials inside the department.” In fact, external policymakers see the QDR as an “excellent model of strategic planning,” and this led to the creation of similar efforts in the departments of Homeland Security, State, and Energy.

Tama writes: “The quadrennial reviews are extremely structured and intensive processes that span 10 to 18 months in length. They are highly inclusive of departmental staff, and some departments include other agencies, states, localities, and private sector stakeholders.”  He found that these reviews are done differently in each of the four departments. Some involve only internal staffs; others engage the public; while others actively engage a range...

15 Tweaks to Your Daily Routine that Can Make You Smarter, Healthier and More Sane

I was standing in the shower recently when I realized that baked oatmeal has changed my life. Historically, my weekday morning breakfast routine has vacillated between eating and spending too much ($5 egg-and-cheese bagels) and eating too little (leftover bits of cornflake dust). Then, this year, I started making a big pan of oatmeal every Sunday.

The no-recipe recipe I use, via Epicurious, is endlessly adaptable. The one constant is that it features fruit on the bottom and a thick oatmeal topping with a crispy crust. In the summer, I did a variation with blueberries and coconut flakes; this fall, I’ve been leaning heavily on chopped apples and cinnamon. It’s cheap, healthy, filling, and—most importantly—delicious. You can eat it fresh out of the oven, cold, or reheated in a skillet with a pat of butter. And best of all, an 11×7-inch baking dish full of the stuff gets me through the whole week.

Most people have a baked oatmeal equivalent—a small, seemingly mundane change they’ve made to their daily routines that winds up delivering big returns. In the interest of pooling our collective knowledge, I asked my coworkers at Quartz to share the...

Needed: A New Approach for Onboarding Political Appointees

  • By Mark A. Abramson, Paul R. Lawrence and Joseph Gurney
  • December 2, 2016
  • Leave a comment

Change is the new keyword of 2016. A new administration was elected in November on the promise of bringing change to Washington. To make this happen, the new team needs to carefully evaluate how Washington currently does business and what it should do differently in the future. 

An immediate first step would be to reevaluate how government has traditionally undertaken the onboarding of new political appointees. We define strategic onboarding as "the systemic and designed approach over the first year of an appointee's tenure that will prepare him or her for success. The goal of strategic onboarding is to have new appointees become productive in a short amount of time."

Historically, the federal government's approach to onboarding can be characterized by: 

  • A centralized one-day White House Orientation program conducted during the second half of the first year of an administration; 
  • Few, if any, onboarding services provided at the departmental level; and 
  • A de facto "sink or swim" approach to new political appointees. 

We believe that changing the current approach would help political appointees be more effective. In a recently-released report, The Onboarding of New Political Appointees, authors Lilith Christiansen, Paul Lawrence, Mark Stein, and Mark Abramson, propose a...

How Donald Trump Can Make Government Work Again

During the election campaign, President-elect Donald Trump boldly promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington. To that end, the Trump administration can regain the trust of our people by creating a government worthy of its citizens.

With Trump’s transition team crafting policies for the new administration, now is the time to build a distinctive and robust government performance reform plan that stops measuring success by ever-increasing budgets and instead focuses on value.

The election revealed an electorate that is angry and cynical. And why not? Today we have a federal bureaucracy that is massive, ineffective, duplicative, invasive, protected and unaccountable. It regularly fails in spectacular fashion, with waste, fraud and abuse totals larger than the market capitalization of many U.S. corporations. The Postal Service cannot even deliver the mail without racking up a $15 billion debt. No private sector shareholder would put up with this, and as collective shareholders in America, neither should we.

A new plan must move beyond the typical Washington solution of arbitrary spending cuts and on-paper reorganizations. Simply look at the impact of sequestration on the Defense Department for evidence of the lasting damage this causes. For decades, presidents have asked the Office of...

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