Civil Servants in Residence: what would happen if civil servants had office-hours on Capitol Hill?

So I’ve read (or am currently reading) two pretty interesting books: If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government by William Eggers and John O’Leary and The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion by John Hagel, Lang Davison and John Seeley Brown. I was sitting on a plane today and an idea from each book converged together in a novel way.

(Full Disclosure: Eggers, Hagel, Davison and Seeley Brown are employees of Deloitte – the same firm I work for. That being said, I’ve never met any of them and my interaction with Eggers and Hagel is virtually limited to following their tweets, so I think it’s fair to say that I’m not promoting their books because of shared association. I’m referencing their books, only because the ideas they present are provocative and remarkably fresh)

Anyway, in If We Can Put a Man on the Moon one of the concepts described is the trap of designing policies that can’t be implemented – policies created with “design free design”, in the authors’ nomenclature. Basically, legislators have the luxury of creating policies that aren’t informed by the potential for successful implementation in the real world. Those who carry out policy don’t often have the opportunity to help design policy, it seems.

In The Power of Pull the authors describe moments of serendipity that can have interesting long-term outcomes. For example, at a conference one might rub elbows with someone while getting a cup of coffee between sessions. That might spark a relationship which fosters a transformative joint-project later in life.

So, I thought, why not position people to have moments of legislative-executive serendipity?

1. There are many rooms in House and Senate Office Buildings

2. There are (likely) many front-line Civil Servants who would be willing to telework from Capitol Hill

3. There are (surely) many Civil Servants who are intelligent and could work well with Legislators and their staffs

I think it’d be an interesting experiement to throw Civil Servants with diverse backgrounds into a conference room with or near to a congressional staff working on a bill that was related to the Civil Servants’ areas of expertise. The Civil Servants could camp out there for a week, month or year and be in the vicinity of their legislative counterparts. They could be consulted and/or contribute their ideas in an informal way; they’d have a better chance for a breakthrough than if they weren’t “in-residence” on Capitol Hill, I’m sure. Would the informal interactions between the parties create moments of legislative-executive serendipity?

Even if it didn’t, I doubt it would make things worse. As a general rule, I think co-locating teams tends to have solid outcomes.

Moreover, what would happen if a diverse group of Executive Branch agencies could share flexible office-space in downtown DC? I think it’d be refreshing and maybe some government siloes would get a little less divided.

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