People who make politics their business have held our attention for much of the past three years, and now it seems the game has flipped: now, it seems, we’ll be doing business as politics — local politics, federal politics, global politics. The image of a high elected official taking credit for saving jobs at a manufacturing plant is not really new (governors and congressmen have been doing this for as long as I can remember) but its quite different to have the still un-inaugurated President of the United States make a show of his political instincts and business skill (or business instincts and political skill, it hardly seems to make much difference now.) For a follow-up, the President-elect took Boeing and Lockheed Martin to task for cost overruns on important government and military contracts. In stock market terms, his trend is up and theirs is sideways.
This is only shocking because it fulfills the entirely undetailed promise of the last election: to change the way things are done. No one knew exactly what that promise meant, and about half expected it to mean “more of the same.” Such election promises have been made for decades, and the way things are done merely seems to become (from the restive voters’ perspective) more self-rewarding and more inefficient.
But, understand that all the time “things” were getting done: taxes were raised, programs were funded, projects were launched, agreements were reached, individuals were appointed, policies were established, and it all has become so routine that very few people can see the true objectives. If this sounds like the work of a very large, soul-less corporate entity, there is a reason for that.
Organizations like Boeing and Lockheed (to name just two obvious one, there are thousands more) are accustomed to working with large bureaucracies. They understand organizational logic: they can find the right point of contact, they can draft the right terms for discussion or proposal, and meet the terms of compliance to get the responses they need from a business partner.
Companies like these have thrived doing good business this way, which is not to suggest it’s dishonest business: By many reports, Boeing has kept the 747 program viable mainly because newer, more aerodynamic and fuel-efficient wide-body jets cannot sustain the feds’ security and other requirements for Air Force One. Surely that adds to the extraordinary replacement cost. Lockheed was developing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for 19 years before the first jets entered service. Surely bureaucratic oversight and excess in the Defense department added to the extraordinary cost.
The inefficiency that voters identified as a problem was in fact a feature of the federal government making itself as amenable and available as possible to businesses straining to operate in a global economy — and proceeding to tax citizens and regulate businesses in order to keep its own “business” viable.
In the real business world, bureaucracy is a relic. Non-essential activities have been eliminated, non-core businesses have been sold or spun-off. Service functions are contracted out to the lowest-cost provider. And now the nation’s highest elected official is adopting that aggressive, business-savvy, deal-oriented attitude.
If the federal government has been converted into a soul-less bureaucracy, it’s likely now we’ve arrived at the moment when a corporate raider takes charge and applies a right-sizing strategy. The objective of this apparently is to make the U.S. economy more competitive against other, ruthless global economic powers, but is a new business model sufficient to satisfy those demanding no more “business as usual”? In the business world, stakeholders demand results, not just headlines.