What Would Happen If Capital Hill Ran the US Like a Startup?

November 3, 2016 - 2 minutes read

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Government is often slow and difficult to understand. Tech moves quickly and is relatively simple to comprehend. Most importantly, consumers tend to get the feeling that tech products put the user first, while government “products” could care less. Because of this difference, mobile app developers are often fond of the idea that the US should be run more like a tech startup — namely, that we should be “moving quickly and breaking things,” to quote Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg. Initiatives like Startup Cities and Y Combinator’s smart cities research project are already underway to investigate what a “startup government” would look like.

While the disruption economy has much to offer governance on the surface, President Obama’s comments at last week’s Frontiers Conference surprised the tech community — particularly considering his long-standing enthusiasm for mobile app development and the tech economy. (He certainly had inspiring words for the Los Angeles mobile app development community when he visited two years ago.) Here’s what the president had to say this time around (via TechCrunch):

“The final thing I’ll say is that government will never run the way Silicon Valley run because, by definition, democracy is messy. This is a big, diverse country with a lot of interests and a lot of disparate points of view. And part of government’s job, by the way, is dealing with problems that nobody else wants to deal with.”

While the government has certainly been taking a closer look at digital government services like those available in much of Europe to cut costs and reach those in need with critical services, there’s a ring of truth to this statement. Tech has changed the fabric of the US, but for-profit businesses — even when created with positive-impact in mind — follow a very different playbook from complex government systems. While app developers are probably right that Capital Hill could stand to take a leaf out of Silicon Valley’s playbook, it’s probably wise to avoid “breaking things” in the process.

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