Process versus Progress

Yesterday I had a brief discuss with an attorney that works for the bureau I’m employed by.  I expressed by concern over laws, regulations, principles, standards, instructions, etc. being too restrictive.  By the time they are written, reviewed, commented on, revised, published, etc., they are frequently obsolete.  Dead on arrival.   My attempted conversation with the attorney quickly turned ugly.  She took a verbal shot at me and became very agitated, as if I was somehow threatening her whole reason for being.

My concern is that because of the rapid changes that are occurring worldwide, it is hard to be very specific any more.  If you think of subjects like regulating video production or PR in general, by the time you get your regulations on the street, they’re obsolete. 

For example, think of the rapid developing social networking possibilities.  I can, as a government employee, bypass the system by using the “latest” thing, like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, youTube, Flicker, wikipedia, etc.  By the time the bureaucracy has time to regulate (think control here) my usage, there is something new I can move to.  Attempts to control become exercises in futility.

This same issue is true of anything related to technology.  Attempts to overregulate are ultimately going to be fail.  The biomedical industry is progressing so fast that attempts at regulation are outdated before they are on the street.  And if the regulations are too severe or too unwieldy, the researcher can just move to Singapore.

The other problem I have, with stifling attempts to overregulate, is with integration.  I work for a federal water agency.  But there are several federal agencies with various types of water responsibilities.  When each does its own thing, and frequently the solutions don’t mesh, work well together.  Who is looking at the big picture?  If each agency looks strictly at its own limited mandate or authorizations, then everybody throws up their hands at the overarching issues and says “not my problem.”

This issue of integration is going to be an increasing problem as the world gets more and more complex.  Regulating or trying to control various components of the whole (without looking at the big picture) may well end up being counter productive on a regulatory, ethical, and business level.

Organizational mandates and regulations in the future need more room for discretion.  They need more flexibility.  Turnaround times need to be improved.  Otherwise, the lawmakers, lawyers, and regulators are going to hold back progress (which forces endeavors to go elsewhere).  And will lead to incredible inefficiencies, thereby taking the USA out of the competitive world market.

I’m not arguing for a regulatory-free environment.  Goodness knows, the workers, the public, and the environment need to be protected.  I’m just saying that as technology advances, the regulatory process needs to progress also.  We need a new paradigm.

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2 Responses to Process versus Progress

  1. rogerdhansen says:

    Here is an example of inefficiency within an agency. The Bureau I work has numerous programs related to the operation and safety of dams. One program deals with earthquakes, another with physical monitoring of the dam (observation wells and drains), another with physical security at the facility, another with hydrologic safety (flood routing), and another with facility automation. Each of the programs work separately with little coordination between the various groups.

    Each of these programs could benefit from a high-end communication system at a dam. For those dams where the communication infrastructure was not already in place, real-time monitoring and control for a specific program was not deemed feasible because of the cost of adding the communication system. Yet if these programs would have banded together for the communication system, real-time monitoring and control would have been very feasible, and the water users and public would be far better served. And I doubt that the ultimate costs would have been much different than what was paid for the inferior systems that are now in place on many Federal dams.

  2. rogerdhansen says:

    An area where Federal agencies struggle is with water resources, particularly as it relates to Native American tribes. Because each agency has it own particular mandate, the overall response to tribal needs is fragmented and isn’t as efficient as it should be.

    For example, the Indian Health Service is mandated to look at getting culinary (indoor water) into Native American homes. But what about industrial water for jobs or water for gardens, etc? The Natural Resource Conservation Service deals only with irrigation, stockwatering, and gardens, no culinary water. EPA is concerned with water quality and sanitation. The Corps of Engineers deals with flood protection and wetland preservation. The Bureau of Reclamation deals with large-scale water project construction. Where is the agency looking at the big picture? For the more isolated communities, power also becomes an issue. The need for integrated water and power systems is hindered by a framentation of responsibilities.

    The standard solution to this type of problem is to form a coordination committee (I’m rolling my eyes). These efforts frequently accomplish little and soon run out of steam and/or money. And accomplish little.

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