Why Governments and Others Outsource… Almost Everything

January 24, 2023

I read a very good essay called “Questions for a New Technology.” The core of the write up is a list of eight questions. Most of these are problems for full-time employees. Let me give you one example:

Are we clear on what new costs we are taking on with the new technology? (monitoring, training, cognitive load, etc)

The challenge strike me as the phrase “new technology.” By definition, most people in an organization will not know the details of the new technology. If a couple of people do, these individuals have to get the others up to speed. The other problem is that it is quite difficult for humans to look at a “new technology” and know about the knock on or downstream effects. A good example is the craziness of Facebook’s dating objective and how the system evolved into a mechanism for social revolution. What in-house group of workers can tackle problems like that once the method leaves the dorm room?

The other questions probe similarly difficult tasks.

But my point is that most governments do not rely on their full time employees to solve problems. Years ago I gave a lecture at Cebit about search. One person in the audience pointed out that in that individual’s EU agency, third parties were hired to analyze and help implement a solution. The same behavior popped up in Sweden, the US, and Canada and several other countries in which I worked prior to my retirement in 2013.

Three points:

  1. Full time employees recognize the impossibility of tackling fundamental questions and don’t really try
  2. The consultants retained to answer the questions or help answer the questions are not equipped to answer the questions either; they bill the client
  3. Fundamental questions are dodged by management methods like “let’s push decisions down” or “we decide in an organic manner.”

Doing homework and making informed decisions is hard. A reluctance to learn, evaluate risks, and implement in a thoughtful manner are uncomfortable for many people. The result is the dysfunction evident in airlines, government agencies, hospitals, education, and many other disciplines. Scientific research is often non reproducible. Is that a good thing? Yes, if one lacks expertise and does not want to accept responsibility.

Stephen E Arnold, January 25, 2023

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