In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s been several months since I’ve written about, well, much of anything. I’ve been in the odd situation of being terribly swamped while having nothing to report – basically because I’ve been getting a lot of things lined up, which are now coming to fruition.
In my last update, way back in June, I promised that the next installment would be a detailed description of the new business I’m launching – VIRTU.US – a for-profit business intended to represent the “government” of the future.
Finishing that business plan consumed most of the summer, however, a big part of the reason you haven’t heard from me. VIRTU.US is now ready for launch, and you’ll be hearing about it in detail … in my next update. But, for now, I have a number of developments to catch you up on. First and foremost, after several months of discussion, the Greater Good Initiative has a new home – and dates for the second annual Gathering. Please mark your calendar for:
More details in a future update.
I’m also back this fall at my undergraduate alma mater, Brown University (pictured above), teaching a new graduate-level course, “Poverty, Redistribution and the Future of Work.” And I have invitations to teach at several other universities, which, again, I’ll discuss in more detail in a forthcoming update.
I’ve also been busy getting started on a new “boutique” appellate law practice, returning my government consulting work to its original goal of advising top elected officials on policy and strategy, and an exciting international initiative involving the families of Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohandas Gandhi – all subjects for future updates, as well.
Finally, you haven’t been reading much writing from me of late because I’ve hardly done any. As you might know, US News & World Report – for about five years my major outlet, especially for time-sensitive, quick-turnaround analysis – ceased publishing its Opinion section in February. With The Atlantic also undergoing a major shake-up, I’ve spent most of 2018 seeking new writing platforms – and I’m happy to report that I soon will resume publishing more. In fact, a lot more. I’m still sorting out what exactly I will be doing where, since I want each publication to have a distinct “stream” from me, but it now looks like I’ll be writing for the following outlets:
● For The Atlantic “Politics channel,” I plan to tackle the political and governmental implications of the “forces of the future”: global warming; technology-driven changes to labor and capital; the disappearance of truth and reality as we know them; why cyber warfare will require restructuring society itself; how bioscience will radically transform wealth and power worldwide; and the total “financialization” of the economy.
● For The New Republic, I’ll be writing monthly on what I call “Liberalism 3.0” – re-conceptualizing progressivism for the 21st Century.
● Replacing US News, my new quick-turnaround destination for timely commentary on news events will be (thanks to former Governor – and CNN commentator – Jennifer Granholm) … CNN. I’ll also be providing CNN a series I’ve long contemplated – using quirky international cultural features to make broader points about politics and the future (what Sacagawea dollars in Ecuador say about sovereignty, what a wine bar tells you about the break-up of governments): kinda “Anthony Bourdain in reverse.”
● Stratfor, the world’s leading global intelligence consultancy, recently republished a piece I wrote for Aspenia, the journal of the European branch of the Aspen Institute. I’ve now been asked to write for the former on an ongoing basis, where I’ll funnel most of my geopolitical prognostication, while writing for the latter (now my longest-running gig) whatever they ask me to write. In fact, my one piece this summer was a request from Aspenia for thoughts on the collapse of the center in American politics – so I’ll leave you with that:
Politics are no longer really arrayed along a line presenting something of a traditional bell curve, at the center of which lies the vast bulk of the population, forming, well, a “center.” Instead, whatever lines there may be lie on two separate planes that simply don’t intersect. The challenge today is not that, in William Butler Yeats’ famous formulation, “the center cannot hold”: It’s that there is no center anymore.
Read the full piece here.
I welcome your thoughts in the comments below.
One of the many flashpoints emerging in the early days of the Trump Administration is the commitment of President Trump and his education secretary-designate Betsy deVos to the privatization of education in this country – and then the defunding of education, and most forms of human capital investment, completely.
This is an issue that I and my terrific colleagues at Public Works have been involved with for years. We decided last year to build one of the top education policy consultancies in America. In 2017, this is shaping up to be even more important. In this update, I’d like to let you know about our approach to education – including stressing creativity over doctrinaire approaches of any kind.
We undertook three major education projects in 2016. We spent the bulk of the year enmeshed in two distinct performance reviews of the state of Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) and the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education/Alaska Student Loan Corporation (ACPE). The unique significance and sensitivity of education issues in Alaska demanded a high degree of oversight; you can read our full DEED report here. ACPE is the state entity for central planning for higher education and financial aid programs; our ACPE report is available here.
We also were retained by the Eagle County (Colorado) Department of Human Services and the Eagle County School District to develop an Early Childhood System Roadmap to identify principles and best practices essential to a comprehensive early childhood system, and strategies for building such a system in Eagle County. The report is available here.
And 2017 is off to a fast start: We just completed a comprehensive performance review of the Dalhart (Texas) Independent School District for the Texas Legislative Budget Board. That report hasn’t been publicly released yet – but the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, DC, did release this month a report I wrote on the Springfield (Massachusetts) Empowerment Zone Partnership – an attempt to create within the public schools the conditions that make charter schools successful, without the poisonous politics: It’s very close to the model Public Works has developed for our clients and advocated around the country for years. You can read it here.
The objective of our education practice is to help guide human capital investment so that all Americans, of every age, can receive world-class education and training enabling them to achieve their full potential. We’re combining expertise throughout the entire educational “pipeline” – from early childhood to K-12 through post-secondary and higher education, on to the adult workforce system – and building bridges between them.
We’ve helped multiple states construct P-20 systems, uniting everything from early childhood education through post-secondary training in governance, coordination, policy and substance. We’ve designed model early childhood programs for localities and national think tanks – and led the restructuring of adult workforce systems in a dozen states, bringing together all segments (PK-12, community colleges, and universities) in the public education system. In short, we’re taking a holistic approach to education.
We also take a holistic approach to effecting meaningful change, working on education policy-making at the highest levels of states governments, but also with principals and superintendents on improving district and building leadership – and community engagement. We’ve put together a team of about two dozen education consultants, with a core team that has some of my favorite people:
If your state or city needs intelligent new approaches to helping its schools, universities and workforce-preparation systems work better, we would love to hear from you. There’s really no more important issue in the years ahead if you truly want to keep America great.
In my last update, I told you about Public Works merging with Sequoia Consulting Group, allowing us to offer a wider range of services. Even before, however, we’ve been moving to expand and deepen our work in one policy area of particular interest to us: education.
This year, Public Works is literally taking our education work to new extremes: We’re undertaking reviews of both the K-12 and post-secondary education agencies in Alaska – and just this week we launched a new project to expand early childhood education high up in the Rockies. At the top are pictures of Dr. JoAnn Cox, our Alaska project leader, at the top of the world in Barrow, AK, and of me with our project manager Deborah Forman in Eagle, CO.
We’ve also been joined by Laura Dukess, a long-time specialist in educational leadership, and we’ll be adding additional experts as our practice further expands. Education also is a key part of the social venture activities I’ll be undertaking now in addition to my continued public sector consulting (more on that in a coming update).
Of course, along with our extensive involvement in workforce development, education has been central to Public Works’ mission from the beginning:
— One of our earliest projects was comprehensive research on early childhood education for the California Commission on Families and Children. We designed a national strategy on early education for the Center for National Policy, and the nation’s first Cabinet-level Department of Early Learning engaged us to identify innovative funding approaches. We also designed an expansion of Iowa’s Statewide Voluntary Preschool Program, and last year coordinated transfer of Louisiana’s Child Care Development Fund to the state’s Department of Education.
— We’ve conducted performance reviews of school operations in New Orleans and four South Carolina districts, helped to streamline the school construction process in California, and wrote a comprehensive strategic plan for professional development in the New Brunswick, NJ, school district. And we designed an innovative Crisis Response Box program in California and Mississippi for addressing school shootings.
— In education policy, our statewide review in West Virginia not only identified $90 million in savings but also defined strategies to improve teaching and technology use. In Arizona, we studied the alignment of K–12 public education with post-secondary and workforce demands, and we helped establish P-20 councils in both Arizona and West Virginia. We also recommended improvements in teacher licensure, accountability and assessment, and charter schools in New Mexico, and developed a comprehensive K-12 agenda for New York City. And we produced a report for the California Department of Education on modernizing “Voc-Ed” into Career and Technical Education for the 21st century.
— We’ve worked on access to higher ed with a complete overhaul of California’s student loan guaranty entity, and a college scholarship program for Cuyahoga County, Ohio. We partnered with the world’s largest university system – Cal State – on expansion of applied education doctorates, a Centers of Excellence program in STEM education, and reorienting the state education system to high-demand fields. We also developed the strategic plan for a regional technical education center at UNM-Gallup and a gap analysis of community college needs in northwestern Pennsylvania.
Look for more from us in education as 2016 progresses!
Our futures are increasingly interwoven with developments beyond the borders of the US. So, my end-of-2015 contribution to U.S. News & World Report, Virtually Unstoppable, tied together several strands: the weakening of traditional nation-state structures in the west, the increasing virtuality of governance and thus of the threats faced by ordered societies, and the challenges this poses to liberal values and economic progress.
Now, that’s paired with my first piece of 2016 – The Global Tsunami at World’s End – that discusses my recent trip to South Africa (where I also spoke at the Africa Political Summit): what I heard and saw there, and how that relates to what we’re seeing worldwide, as well as here in the US, as to the increasing anger with economic and political elites.
My consulting work also has been taking me outside the US more and more – last March, Colombia to discuss improving governmental efficiency, and Mexico City
in November to speak with an international gathering about the role of policy issues in improving election campaigns and democracy worldwide. (The Mexican finance ministry also allowed me to interview its expert on crypto-currencies – on which Mexico is a potential leader – for a forthcoming piece in U.S. News.).
I’m already planning further consulting trips to West Africa, southern Africa, and South America in 2016.
As always, I look forward to your comments on my articles.
2015 has been a good year for my consulting firm, Public Works LLC. We’ve had 23 consultants and staff at work on over a dozen projects stretching from Alaska to Puerto Rico, and covering all the firm’s major areas of traditional strength.
As always, the bulk of our work has come in government spending and efficiency. We were retained to help close budget gaps in two of the most high-profile fiscal challenges in the country: Over the late spring and early summer, we worked with Puerto Rico Senate President Eduardo Bhatia to help stanch the flow of red ink in the Commonwealth’s budget. I wrote about the Puerto Rico budget situation this past summer and appeared on a panel to discuss possible solutions on Capitol Hill last month.
Meanwhile, we undertook similar work in late summer and early fall to address the City of Chicago’s budget gap. Thanks to union leaders like Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez and conscientious city officials like budget director Alexandra Holt, we helped to develop a package totaling over $100 million in savings. We rounded out the year improving the fleet efficiency of one of the largest independent public authorities in the country, and launching an efficiency review of the county government in Travis County (Austin), Texas.
The year opened with finishing development of a strategic plan for human services in Broward County (Ft. Lauderdale) Florida, and launching a review of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Our final report in Alaska was just released publicly last week. Meanwhile, we’re providing the subject-matter and analytic expertise on a 5-year, federally-funded study of minority health disparities in Virginia.
We’ve also been expanding our education footprint, with a performance review of four school districts in South Carolina, and two more reviews now underway in Alaska, of both the state’s preK-12 and higher ed systems. Meanwhile, we’ve spent the latter half of 2015 preparing the Comprehensive System Improvement Plan for Rhode Island’s workforce investment system, the subject area in which we’ve probably undertaken the most work in recent years.
We’re expecting 2016 to be even better: Half of these contracts extend well into the New Year, totaling 70% as much work signed on already for 2016 as we had for all of 2015. We’re therefore expecting a close-to-record year in 2016. We’re also expecting some major announcements early in the New Year, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, all of us at Public Works wish all of you, and your families, a healthy and happy holiday season.