Federal Success story — the Mars Rover and your Weekend Reads!

GovLoop Insights Issue of the Week with Chris Dorobek… where each week, our goal is to find an issue — a person — an idea — then helped define the past 7-days… and we work to find an issue that will also will have an impact on the days, weeks and months ahead. And, as always, we focus on six words: helping you do your job better.

A busy week on GovLoop Insights’ DorobekINSIDER.

  • Doing more with less — that’s the mantra these days, right? But is it time to just do things differently? We talked to Chuck Prow — the General Manager of IBM’s Global Business Services’ Public Sector business. He is the author of a new book — Governing to Win
  • Have Twitter, Facebook and Istagram killed emergency management? We spoke to Adam Crowe, who says it may. He told us it’s time for an emergency management revolution
  • And speaking of a new way of looking at emergency management, we got to talk about Virtual Operations Support Teams — VOSTs, which are one way emergency managers are using Web 2.0 to collect information and gain situational awareness. How do they work? And how can they be used in times of crisis? We got answers from one of the originals Jeff Phillips.
  • What is the real VALUE of openness and transparency — is there any? We get insights from the Sunlight Foundation’s John Wonderlich.

But our issue of the week looks at NASA. We’ve all been watching the landing of the Mars rover. (And if you haven’t seen NASA’s reaction to the successful landing check it out here)

It is hard to believe that it was 2004 when the cousin of Curiosity landed on Mars. Spirit and Opportunity are amazing devices — they were supposed to be on the Red Planet for 90 days and one of them is still going, all these years later collecting all sorts of rich data.

Over the years, Chris Dorobek has had a number of opportunities to talk to Professor Steve Squyres, a professor of astronomy at Cornell University who served as the original program manager for NASA’s Mars rover program. He is also author of the book Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet

Back in 2010, when one of the rovers got stuck, Chris and his co-host on Federal News Radio Amy Morris got to talk with Professor Squyres to talk about how they were able to keep Spirit and Opportunity safe for more than six years.

Weekend reads

  • Election Season: Government Executive notes on its cover this month, the size of government is one of the big issues in the campaign, maybe not a healthy or helpful debate, but it certainly is an issue.
    • But Business Insider’s Henry Blodget has one of the best collection of facts about the actual size of government. Blodget notes we have a huge budget deficit and $15 trillion of debt to contend with, so the size of the government–and government spending–is obviously important. But the topic has now been “politicized,” which means that you can’t talk about it without being cheered or jeered by fans of each respective political team. And that, unfortunately, leads to a lot of facts being ignored or distorted. But both political teams are responsible for the debt-and-deficit mess we’re in–and so, I am sorry to say, are the rest of us. And fixing that mess is going to take decades, regardless of who’s in power.
    • For example, he notes — and charts — that there are many more government employees, but he also notes that the population keeps growing. Therefore, as a percent of total employed people in our economy, the number of government workers is actually far lower than it used to be. About 16% of us now work for the government.
  • Gaming to change culture: CNN features a series on what they call Gaming Reality — about the use of games for serious results. And he highlights the Angola penitentiary in Louisiana, where the warden, Burl Cain, has used a rodeo to change behavior. Written by Seth Priebatsch, the CEO of the apps SCVNGR and mobile payment company LevelUp — NOTE: Chris’s sister works for the company, but I found this story independently of her. Priebatsch notes that Angola is a maximum security prision, home to 5,300 violent offenders. And Cain wanted to change the dynamic at this place.
    • “Cain’s play-by-play at Angola reads like a deck of game-mechanics cards. To change behavior, he introduced a progression system that was notched with “appointments” — challenges inmates had to conquer to in order to get a reward. Rise to the challenge and you could earn the right to own a pet, to take a job, even the freedom to roam the grounds.”
  • How blank checks can reap big rewards. A few years ago, Kraft’s Tang brand was stuck in a rut, so the company decided to try something new: Tang leaders in key countries like Brazil were given a “blank check,” essentially urging them to dream big and not worry about resources, Strategy + Business reports. The results have been impressive — Tang has doubled sales outside the U.S. over the past five years. The strategy ran counter to the idea that people need to live within their means. But “resource constraints limit more than plans. They also limit the creative potential of people.” The blank check strategy requires business leaders to go through a systematic process of picking the best bets, selecting the team, defining goals and plans, and monitoring the results. “Targets should be measurable on well-defined metrics like revenues, gross margins, and cash flow from the business.” They also need to be aggressive and it all has to be done in a tight time frame.
  • Forget those gov benefits: Forbes writes about Google’s death benefits. A few interesting items there. One: The oldest Google employee is 83. But Google takes are of the spouses of its employees… even after they die. The spouses get 50 percent of the person’s salary for the next decade. Not a bad deal.
    • The New York Times about success… and the role of good ol’ fashion luck. “We always knew that it was good to be smart and hard-working, and that if you were born or raised with those qualities, you were incredibly lucky, just as you were lucky if you grew up in the United States rather than in Somalia. But the sociologists’ research helps us understand why many people who have those qualities never find much success in the marketplace. Chance elements in the information flows that promote that success are sometimes the most important random factors of all.”

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Samuel Lovett

Would love to hear an INSIDER interview with one of the rodeo contestants from Angola, or the warden. Sounds like a cool story.