Time to Put Millennials in Charge of Government?

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This topic contains 27 replies, has 17 voices, and was last updated by  John Sim 10 years, 4 months ago.

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  • #137568

    In article entitled “End Political Gridlock: Put a Millennial in Charge,” Laura Sessions Stepp says:

    In the midst of the recent debt-ceiling impasse in Congress, I wanted nothing more than to put the smartest 20-something legislative assistants together in a room and ask them to resolve it.

    OK, I’m kidding. Sort of. But millennials, on the whole, possess traits that many members of Congress — in particular freshmen Republicans in the House — appear not to have…

    She went on to say:

    Stop by any watering hole on Capitol Hill after 7 p.m. and you’ll find millennials vigorously arguing everything from the merits of education reform to Social Security, marshalling reason as well as emotion. In the minds of a 26- or 27-year-old, the fact that he or she might choose one path and a friend might choose another is grounds for a drink together after class or after work, not a standoff.

    Of course, there are a handful of young hotheads in Congress. But almost all national polls show that most millennials are more open than their elders to other people’s opinions…

    I’m not trying to pit one generation against another here, but I’m wondering if there’s some merit to Stepp’s assertion.

    What do you think? What if we put Millennials in leadership roles – or, at minimum, created ad hoc working groups — to see how they’d sort out some of the hottest, hyper-partisan issues of the day?

  • #137622

    John Sim

    What a bold concept. While it would be a completely realistic scenario in the private sector, not sure if folks in the fed gov sector would be willing to bite.

    Here’s one way to achieve a similar result: reverse mentoring. While a baby boomer may not be willing to let a Gen Xer or Gen Yer call the shots directly, reverse mentoring would allow the baby boomer to learn some things from the Xers and Yers through a mentoring relationship. The end result – the baby boomer decision maker has the benefit of having acquired additional Xer/Yer tools in his or her toolkit. Diversity of thought = strategic and smart.

    Andrew, this might be something worth considering for including in the GovLoop Mentoring Program. Speaking of which, all of you seasoned feds have volunteered to be a mentor right? If not, what are you waiting for? Mentees need you!

  • #137620

    Bill Brantley

    Way too many generalizations here. Just because a few folks who happen to be Tea Party members and Baby Boomers act in a certain way does not mean that every Baby Boomer should be stereotyped as unwilling to compromise. Neither should we assume that all Millennials are imbued with amazing reasoning powers due to their youth.And does Stepp have better sources than “almost all national polls” to back up her over-generalizations?

    I fully agree that diversity of opinion and a willingness to respect the views of others is needed here. But you don’t start by categorizing people in the attempt to claim one group is superior over another.

  • #137618

    Hey Bill – Agree on need to avoid generalizations…and not sure that Stepp is suggesting Millennials are superior. So let’s just isolate the idea of having a tiger team or think tank of younger folks to answer a few questions around how they’d solve tough issues that face us. Do you see any value in that type of exercise? Fresh, potentially innovative thinking on hyper-partisan issues posed to people who have not been around long enough to be jaded?

  • #137616

    That’s definitely one of the visions for the Mentoring Program, John! Next iteration after the pilot… 🙂

  • #137614

    Kanika Tolver

    I love this concept, I think Millennials are “Corporate Rebels” and we can get the job done. We are smart, fearless and resilent.

  • #137612

    Bill Brantley

    Jaded is not automatically a function of age or experience. I’ve met some pretty innovative and open-minded 60-year olds and the most jaded person I ever met just turned 24 last month. The concept of a tiger team is good but I firmly believe that a diversity of factors would produce better solutions than a homogenous group organized around a single factor.

    But you raise a fascinating experiment. Why doesn’t GovLoop organize three groups to determine who would come up with the most innovative solutions? One group would be composed of Millennials, one group would be composed of Baby Boomers, and one group would be of mixed ages. Give each group the same set of problems and then record their deliberations. After they have finished, transcribe the deliberations and remove all age identifiers. Have another group review the transcripts and vote on which group did the most innovative thinking. I’m betting that none of the groups will have a significant difference.

  • #137610

    Peter Sperry

    The minimum age for service in the House of Representatives is 25, for the Senate 30. The youngest member of the House is Arron Schrock, a Tea Party Republican who had just turned 25 when he overcame the negative headwinds of 2008 to get elected in central Illinois. Anyone interested in joining him is should pick up the nominating petitions from their local board of election and jump in the pool.

  • #137608

    Elliot Volkman

    I’m in that group so my opinion may be slightly biased, but I would love to see my generation to be taken serious. If there is one thing I have seen for certain, it is that ideas can come from anywhere within or outside of an group, and position should not simply be a reason to ignore them. For example a large portion of Reddit members are Millennials (a very broad user base though of all ages) and they just began a community that would explain issues such as the debt ceiling to anyone in the simplest terms. There are some great ideas in there, though you should mind the trolls.

  • #137606

    Denise Petet

    I think innovation and an open mind is great for any problem solving. However, when we’re dealing with issues like the ‘debt crisis’ etc, what ends up happening is that ‘innovative’ people are seen as mavericks and wild cards – and looked upon with a derogatory eye, because what those manipulating events want is someone they can predict and control, not someone that’ll surprise them.

    We have some that are so obsessed with maintaining the status quo that they’ll do anything to keep it, even if the status quo is unsustainable.

    Innovation is seen as ‘bad’ because it shakes up the status quo and rattles the cages of those that want things to stay the same because they have a vested interest in things staying the same.

    The other caveat to having innovative people looking into situations, the decision makers need to have an open mind too. Does no good for me to spend six months finding creative ways to trim a budget only to have the staid old city commission pat me on the head and stick with their old fashioned ‘fixes’.

    I don’t know if I totally buy into ‘millennials have the best ideas’, however sometimes the best ideas can come from those outside the group. People that look upon things with fresh eyes and an open mind rather than ‘well, Roger suggested that 3 years ago and he’ll defend his idea and I don’t want to make Roger mad, so I can’t speak out against it’.

  • #137604


    I am a baby boomer and I am open to anyone’s opinions. I don’t think anyone’s ideas are better or worse because of age. What matters is if the idea is good and worthwhile. I think what we need are people who will bring ideas to the table that are best for all and not a political party.

  • #137602

    Mark Dixon

    Why not? The current system is not working. Besides, millennials will have to pay the bills for the last 30+ years of voodoo economics, greed and stupidity.

  • #137600


    @Denise, Preservation of the status quo is a major problem. Some of these people in Congress have managed to burrow in for what seems an eternity. They have convinced themselves they are there by divine right. When I hear statements like “the poor have to do their fair share”, I am more convinced that term limits are in order.

  • #137598

    Stephen Peteritas

    Most millennials I know are terrible with money and we kind of need people who are good with it and maximizing it. I would take the exact opposite approach and say we need to put old people, really old people (old to me that is) in government, America seemed to be running alright when our grandpa’s were in charge.

    In all seriousness though I really don’t think we need a youth movement in gov’t. My generation has had everything handed to it pretty much on a silver platter and I’m not sure that approach lends itself to a perfect remedy for the current situation. We will be the 1st generation that doesn’t live as well as or better than our parents as far as quality of life goes. While I hate throwing myself and generation under the bus I think they will be a serious gap in management and leadership until the following generation is ready to take the lead.

  • #137596


    @Stephen, Well said. There is no substitute for experience.

  • #137594

    Denise Petet

    I think if term limits are good enough for the President, they should be for every elected federal office. The whole budget mess seems to be a prime indicator of that. I saw it in the health care ‘debates’ as well…blind party line dogma ‘if the other side puts forth an idea it must be evil, keep it away from me, if my side puts it forth, then it’s perfect, why can’t you see that?’

    Too many people too entrenched to a status quo that’s no longer possible. Part of innovation is change. And you can’t change if you have the same people making the same decisions intent upon keeping things the same as they were when they got into office 10-50 years ago.

  • #137592

    Patrick Fiorenza

    This is a really interesting discussion – I think it is more important to focus on the traits of a millennial, rather than the actual age of an individual. I know plenty of people who are not millennials but act more like one than I do – so I think it’s more important to look at the traits and leadership/management styles that define the group. Whoever can do the best job leading an organization and helping forward the mission – let them run with it, regardless of age. Basically, in my opinion, we need more leaders who think like millennials, but doesn’t necessarily have to be one. I really like John’s idea of reverse mentoring!

  • #137590

    Carol Davison

    I call it mentoring whether the youth are teaching or learning. I think the problem is too many like thinking people in charge. Mix it up by ability, age, faith, gender, race, sexual preference, (did I miss anything?) so we can see challenges and opportunities from many standpoints. If I am an ethical person, I want someone thinking NOT like me to foresee what I cannot.

  • #137588


    I don’t want to hire people who are mirror images of myself. I want diversity on all fronts and fresh ideas and viewpoints.

  • #137586

    Julie Chase

    Really? Is that during a hiring freeze? The millenials are quite savvy, if Uncle Sam doesn’t give them what they want, they will shrug their shoulders and move on. The economy doesn’t scare them very much.

  • #137584

    Chris Poirier

    I further agree and also think its a bit much to assume all Millennials are the flipside of the “tea party” coin.

    Futhermore, I would contend that the actions of the Tea Party members is far more Millennial (though none are actually Millennials..the Tea Party is historically younger on average than either major party) than that of the “old guard” GOP and DEMs that could not come to resolution. They held their ground, on their values, for the people who elected them (you know..their job as elected officials…) Just because it was an unpopular stance doesn’t make it “wrong”…and for the record..how do 83 members of congress “take over” when there are 435 voting members. Sure 83 is a lot, but something tells me that 352 other voting members could have “stopped them” if that was the goal. (not a math major..but…)

    That all being said, I completely agree that the answer lies some where in the “middle” of a “tiger-team” a solid mixture of experiences, cultures, values, etc (course..this IS what congress is supposed to be…but that has obviously been led astray.)

    I know we’re all looking for answers, but I’m about ready to see solutions more so than finger pointing. Guess that’s the Millennial in me 😉

  • #137582

    Jennifer Pahlka

    Agreed that generalizations are tricky, but studies do quantify characteristics of Millennials that have some interesting points. You have to understand many will not fit this profile, but if its a generational trend, what are the implications for the future?

    The Center for American Progress says Millennials are the most pro-government generation in decades, despite being quite critical of how the US government actually works.

    Our experience at Code for America suggests that a certain type of Millennial (and our fellows are Millennials and older, up to late thirties) is fantastic at ignoring the politics and jumping in with fixes, hacks, improvements, solutions. Some context here. We like these qualities and think they can help in the long run. 😉

    Andrew, Kudos on the mentoring program and would love to hear more.

  • #137580

    Hey Jen – Thanks for chiming in! Code for America = brilliant.

    As for the mentoring program, you would make a great mentor! You can learn more about it here:


  • #137578

    Agreed – they/we are inheriting a mess – why wait a decade before they start taking ownership of them?

  • #137576

    Jay Johnson

    I used to believe that term limits and voting out incumbents might help our political system. Now I feel that the best chances for our nation’s success lie outside the realm of politics. The system is broken and putting different people into it will not improve the performance of the system. My latest blog post explains a little more.

    Still, by all means, lets hear for Millennials. One such group put forth some suggestions for the Federal budget. Check out the following link to see what they said:


  • #137574

    Denise Petet

    i would love to see our whole political system change, but i don’t see that happening. It’s too entrenched and too many people are making too much money (and already have too much) to even let discussions happen.

    Term limits may not be a perfect fix, but they can be a first step. For the not so cynical, guaranteeing fresh faces every election can bring in that innovation and new ideas and ideals. For the cynical, booting some of these entrenched folks from their life long reigns of power can at least offer the opportunity for things to change and for the corporations to have to continually buy their candidate rather than just counting on the bought and paid for incumbent.

    I don’t think there’s any one age group that holds the magic key or special powers to make things happen. Innovative individuals come from all ages. Kids that are leaving high school now grew up in an unprecedented time of tech and an ever increasing era of ‘gimme satisfaction now’. The former can be good, the latter, maybe not so much. I’m all for cutting through red tape, but you don’t want to cross that line to being so impulsive you jump behind every hare brained idea out there.

    This is also the generation that’s grown up in the ‘blame everyone but yourself’ litigious era where if you want money, just sue someone, or if you get caught being naughty, find a syndrome to blame it on and go about your business.

    On the other hand, we have plenty of people in this world that are clinging to ‘how it’s always been done’ regardless if that ‘how’ takes 4 times as long and costs 6 times as much as a newer way.

    Real innovation can come from putting people in a room that have knowledge about a topic, but not strong opinions. That have open minds and are willing to talk and compromise and stand their ground when necessary.

    Our politicians have proven that they can’t do it. Many of them can’t get past the R or D to even pretend to pay attention to the merit of any suggestion. There is no way – short of the second american revolution – we can change the system. But invoking term limits can be a first step. And it shouldn’t be something they discuss themselves – i’m fuzzy if congress can even amend the constitution themselves or if it has to be a public vote – but it should be a public vote. Let the american people voice their opinions about it.

    We’re a democracy/republic, we shouldn’t have anyone in a life long position of power.

  • #137572

    Neil Bonner

    I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.

    — William F. Buckley (1925 – 2008)

  • #137570

    Mark Dixon

    Nice comment, Jen.

    I believe we need both…for instance, I am a baby boomer, but tend to think somewhat more radically than my peers. I’m working on “architectural” IT solutions that solve the organizational and structural issues that plague governments…primarily at the local level.

    To do business and technical architecture does require some experience…most of the IT architects (not software developers) I run into are not millenials…most have 20+ years of experience in IT and in particular industries/sectors. They know where the skeletons are…

    We also need folks like Jen’s Fellows…folks that can jump in and solve immediate problems.

    We can do cross-mentoring here too…

    The issue to avoid is creating problems elsewhere by solving problems in one area…unintended consequences.

    Hence the need for architecture…to put in physical terms…think of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA. Mrs. Winchester just kept building, with no architecture. The result is a hodge-podge and she created a maintenance nightmare. IMHO, that is how most IT in government looks today.

    I like to think of it in terms of Alice in Wonderland talking to the Cheshire Cat…”If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will get you there.”

    We need to define the vision and then design the road to get there, so we have context for our day-to-day decisions.

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