Author: Uher, Jerome
Date published: October 1, 2011
Journal code: GPWE
What a summer we had here in Washington! An earthquake, a hurricane and a stock market that acted like both depending on which day you were brave enough to watch it. But to me, even those alarming events were more bearable than the downward spiral of political blaming and posturing that Washington has foisted upon the country throughout the year.
I worked for years as an aide in the Senate, so I am usually a defender of Washington, and I believe that most of this town is very much part of the real world, that most people here have good motives (while there are exceptions), and that there are plenty of hard-working and sensible people in government.
But I've got to admit that it's getting harder and harder to prove that when you see what's been happening and worse, the way everyone has been acting. Our leaders know well it is much easier and safer to criticize the other guy's ideas than to offer a solution, or heaven forbid, work with the other guy to actually solve a problem.
In this issue, Ron Smith gives a good synopsis of how things have changed and why we have the political theater we have today. It does not paint a pretty picture, or one that we will be able to change readily - but it brings up a serious question about open government, would we want to go back to the way things were when deals could be struck, but often in the back room without public knowledge?
One thing I do cling to is my belief that that government and politics are two very different things. Politics is about obtaining and maintaining power. Governing is the actual work of meeting the needs, helping the disaffected and "making the trains run on time." To me, governing is a lot less glamorous, but a lot more honorable. And unfortunately, we haven't seen much of it lately.
Fortunately for me, I was able to get out of Washington, where I was able to witness something that was quite different. At the ISM conference in Austin, I don't think it would have been too hard for the people in our field to look at the huge tasks facing them - the funding cuts, the increased demand and the hard deadlines - and spend their time whining and fretting about the situation. But that was far from the case.
The focus in Austin was all about how "we" (feds, states, counties, public and private entities) are going to meet the challenge ahead. Talk was about meeting the tight deadlines of the task at hand, leveraging the creation of a health care exchange and using the attention generated by rough budgets to rethink the delivery of services. It was never about whose fault it might be that we got to this point.
For example, presenters from Kansas noted that the state had returned federal funds. But instead of going on about the politics of the matter, they simply explained how the state would manage its work without that funding, in order to help other states learn.
Word that Washington state needed to cut hundreds of millions more dollars from its budget wasn't met with finger-pointing and bluster, but with a grim sense of reality and a determination to do it in the best way possible.
Even the private company representatives kept their competitive digs at each other good-natured. The message was basically - they may be good, but we are better.
I saw a lot of good government in Austin and I saw practically no politics. I found it to be a very heartening trip.
It's good to get out of Washington every so often.
I'd also like to note a major editorial change we've made at APHSA, not at this magazine, but for our newsletters. For about a month now, we've made our flagship newsletter, This Week in Washington, available to all APHSA members, as well as our industry partners and other friends. For the past several years, we offered it only to higherlevel officials and to those who paid for a separate subscription, mainly because of costs related to mailing and printing that really don't exist anymore. What we hope we have created in the new This Week in Washington is a comprehensive newsletter that, along with this magazine and our daily clipping service, keeps you abreast of all the critical events that affect health and human services.
As an APHSA member, you can sign up to receive This Week in Washington by e-mail by going to the APHSA home page.
Meanwhile, we have suspended production of some of our other newsletters that report on news solely of interest to certain affiliates. The news found in those newsletters is still available to our members via a more expanded This Week in Washington or through the APHSA and affiliate web sites.
Let me know what you think of the new arrangement - jerome.uher@ aphsa.org.
Jerome Uher is APHSA's membership and communications director. He can be reached at Jerome. Uher@aphsa. org.