Opinion: Sen. Lee Advocates Policy Entrepreneurship

Scott AndersonEntrepreneurship and innovation have long been crucial in the business world. Many businesses and even whole industries have been disrupted and no longer exist because they were not innovative enough. Advanced technology and creative thinking have allowed small, agile and inventive companies to upstage larger, slower, more traditional firms.

This competition has led to new and improved products and services, better customer service, lower prices, more jobs and higher productivity. It’s a win for nearly everyone concerned.

However, the innovation seen in the private sector hasn’t been as apparent in the public sector, especially in the federal government. Many approaches to solving problems, along with accompanying regulations, laws, procedures and processes are dramatically outdated. Many of the nation’s problems aren’t being solved. Indeed, many are becoming worse.

But now some “policy entrepreneurs” in the U.S. Congress are attempting to improve the way the U.S. government operates and get to the causes and roots of societal problems, not just address the effects.

One of the leaders of the policy entrepreneurs is Utah Sen. Mike Lee. He has advanced a number of proposals as part of a conservative reform agenda – he calls it “open-source policy innovation” –designed to solve problems and make government more accountable and less onerous.

For too long, he notes, his Republican Party has been the party of “no” – fighting policies it disagrees with, but not advancing a positive, pro-growth, problem-solving agenda of its own. Over the last few years, Lee has developed important and innovative reform proposals dealing with poverty, inequality, higher education, criminal justice, transportation and tax reform.

“In my view the greatest domestic challenge of our generation is America’s large and growing Opportunity Deficit,” Lee has said. “This opportunity crisis presents itself in three principal ways: immobility among the poor, trapped in poverty; insecurity in the middle class, where families just can’t seem to get ahead; and cronyist privilege at the top, where political and economic elites twist policy to unfairly profit at everyone else’s expense.”

A common thread through most of Lee’s proposals is the need for decentralization of federal control and taxation – less bureaucracy and one-size-fits-all mandates at the top, and more authority and flexibility at state and local levels where innovation and disruption can more easily occur.

A big part of the failure of the federal government is that it is simply trying to do too much. By attempting to use centralized authority to solve every problem in America, it addresses none of them very well. A lean federal government focused on duties enumerated in the Constitution could be successful and cost-effective.   

“. . . in many ways, bigger government is not the solution to unequal opportunity – it’s the cause,” Lee has written. “It is government policies, after all, that trap poor children in rotten schools and poor families in substandard housing. It is government policies that inflate costs and limit access to quality schools and health care; that hamstring badly needed innovation in higher education. And it is government policies that give preferential treatment and subsidies to well-connected corporations and special interests at the expense of everyone else.”

Besides reforming policies impacting citizens, Lee believes the congressional process of making laws must be revitalized. “Congress today is just one more opaque, out-of-touch, legacy institution left over from a vanished era of centralized power now losing public credibility as the rest of American life grows ever more decentralized, personalized, and accountable,” he said. “As institutions, the House and Senate are clinging to an obsolete way of legislating.”

While government can never be operated exactly like a business, Lee and his colleagues are on the right track to pursue innovation and entrepreneurial policymaking to solve America’s problems.

Editor’s Note: Scott Anderson is a campaign co-chair for Sen. Lee’s re-election campaign.