The 2012 election resulted in status quo and at least two more years of a divided government. While there were certainly landmark reforms in the first two years of the Obama administration, the following two were anything but productive. In fact, the 112th Congress has been considered by many to be the most unproductive legislative body since the 1940s. In the past two years, Congressional approval ratings have only exceeded 20% twice and the most recent Gallup survey has Congress pegged at a lowly 15%. Americans are losing faith in the ability of our legislators to do their jobs.
There isn't agreement on much of anything in Washington these days. Gun control failed despite popular support from 90% of Americans and the budget process is a mess. We'll have to wait and see on immigration reform. Political "wins" are selected over governance, when actionable policies are needed more than ever. But here's an interesting solution: Congress should reinvent itself and embrace the ethos of entrepreneurship.
America's entrepreneurs are innovators and master problem solvers whose livelihood relies on execution to be successful. They have pulled the American economy up before and Congress ought to take some notes on their methods for getting things done. Here are seven things Congress can learn from entrepreneurs to help fix the most hapless legislative body in U.S. history:
1. Be Bold:
Congress must be bold and move beyond partisan rancor to find solutions that help move the country forward. Gun control was supported by 90% of the American public, yet it failed. Congress will have another chance with immigration reform to pass meaningful legislation that draws bipartisan support and endorsement from business and labor.
2. Be Innovative on Policy Matters:
It seems that so much of Congress is hung up on tax cut this and entitlement reform that. Those are critical issues, but they aren't going to solve all our problems. There are numerous other policy proposals that would benefit America's long-term economy prosperity such as the carbon tax, national infrastructure bank, and permanent extension of the R&D tax credit.
3. Encourage Competition:
Mainstream media is obsessed with picking "winners" and "losers" in Washington. This exhausting practice has surely watered down the policy debate. Representatives and senators, in fear of losing, are proposing tired old ideas. The essence of political victory ought to be based on competitive and innovative policies, not worn out concepts that some hope will muster enough votes to eek through the chamber.
4. Entrepreneur In-Residence Concept:
Venture capital firms, cities and municipalities, business schools, and other organizations utilize entrepreneurs in residence to provide consult and strategy to key stakeholders. Sure, Congressional offices and much of Washington employs "senior advisors," but we're looking for folks to solve problems not provide advice. Entrepreneurs in residence are talented individuals light on political or policy experience, but a strong track record that shows great success in solving problems creatively.
5. Demonstrate Data Driven Policy:
Meaningful legislation must come with data to support its purpose, plain and simple. Congress is savvy in its ability to use research and data to support policy positions. Sometimes these situations go awry. The economics corner of the web has been feverishly debating the errors found by a 28-year old economics Ph. D. student at UMass in a wildly influential paper that has served as the basis for the global austerity movement. Data analysis must be rigorous and factually correct in supporting any policy.
6. Use Technology to Empower Constituents:
The 113th Congress will undoubtedly be the most technologically sophisticated legislative body in history. There is a unique opportunity to reinvent the legislative process by applying today's technologies to connect with constituents and empower them on the local and national level.
7. Listen to All Your Constituents:
It's common practice in start-ups and innovative companies to solicit feedback from everyone along the food chain to build a successful company. Congress can do the same. Technology provides the ability for elected officials to connect elected officials with the concerns of their constituents on the policy level more than ever. Engaging with younger voters and millennials through technology will enable a greater understanding of the issues they care about and how to secure their votes in the future.
It's overly idealistic to assume that Congress (and our political parties) will change their tune at the snap of a finger. However, as they slog through the 113th session, our legislators should take a moment of introspection and think about how they can change their approach to governance. We're stuck with all of them for another year, so they might as well roll their sleeves up and get to work. Let's challenge them to embrace the ethos of entrepreneurs of our past, present, and future and get some things done.