5 Steps For Congress to Fix Gun Violence, Immigration Reform, and Basically Anything Else

For whatever the reason, the movement on immigration reform the past few months has shown that Congress can work in a bipartisan manner and solve a problem. While the results of last November’s election may have provided some impetus, the real reason we will have major immigration reform this year is Congress clearly defined the problem and are coming up with solutions to address it. Whether they consciously know it or not, they are using standard problem solving techniques.

Webster defines "problem solving" as:

1. Noun. The area of cognitive psychology that studies the process involved in solving problems.

2. The thought process involved in solving a problem. 

Businessdictionary.com expands this definition to: The process of working through details of a problem to reach a solution.

If Congress were to make a concentrated effort to follow these five simple steps, there is no reason all issues could not be resolved in a similar fashion. Using immigration, for example:

1. Find and define the problem:What is the problem and why? The problem with immigration isn't there are 12 million people in the country illegally. To get to the real problem, "why" had to be asked and answered several times. The first answer may have been that our immigration system is broken. But how and why?

2. Generate and evaluate alternative solutions: The result has been a plan that will be made public shortly which is rumored to address visa processing time, the type and number of visas, and what to do with the 12 million. Once the bill is introduced, it will be referred to the appropriate committees.

3. Select preferred solution(s): The committees will debate the proposals and send to the full House and Senate for possible amendment and vote. Once passed, along with all necessary funding, the president will sign the bill.

4. Implement the solution(s): This is straightforward. The passed and signed law goes into effect.

5. Evaluate results: Not everything works out the way it is planned. Evaluation must start immediately and changes, going back through the same process, must be made as needed.

Immigration reform is a rare example of how using formal problem solving techniques can make Congress more efficient. However, Congress’s normal process is to only see the immediate symptom.

A good example of a missed opportunity is the on-going debate concerning the placement of the Distinguished Warfare Medal on the military medal order of precedence list. This is a relatively minor issue when compared to immigration, gun control, tax reform, entitlements, and the deficit. It does however illustrate how an opportunity to solve a real problem can be missed by responding only to the immediate symptom.

The medal was placed above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, angering veterans' groups.  22 senators and 50 representatives sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel asking for review. In my article concerning this issue, I pointed out the real problem: that there are several other non-combat medals ranked higher than combat medals and the real solution is to review the entire order of precedence. I brought this to the attention of one of the 22 signatories and my senator, Dean Heller (R-Nev.). I got what appeared to be a personal response from Senator Heller. He closed with saying he would keep my opinion in mind if this came before the Senate.

This does not require Senate action. The secretary of defense makes the decision. The real solution would be for the members of Congress who signed the first letter to send a revision asking for the entire order of precedence list to be reviewed. Since the original letter is being addressed by the Department of Defense, it must be assumed a request for full review would be likewise.

These are the five easy steps that Congress can use to get this country back on track. The speed at which immigration reform legislation is progressing clearly shows they work.