Memo 06.05.2024 4 minutes

A Philosophy of Conservative Good Governance

Regulating Artificial Intelligence – Ai

Why Schedule F is necessary to fix software in government.

Instead of an executive branch, we have a branch of managerial dysfunction. Bureaucrats taking a maximally risk-averse interpretation of laws have created a culture too neurotic to do basic software development. America needs sweeping reforms targeted at good governance ends.

Managerial culture was best described by mid-twentieth century thinker James Burnham:

Managerial activity tends to become inbred and self-justifying. The enterprise comes to be thought of as existing for the sake of its managers—not the managers for the enterprise.

In other words, managerialism becomes a competition to check as many compliance boxes imaginable.

To address this problem, President Trump signed Schedule F, an executive order “to provide agency heads with additional flexibility to assess prospective appointees.” Since then, Schedule F has become a symbol of broader reforms designed to give presidents more control over the civil service.

However, it is not just conservatives who are concerned about managerial dysfunction. Jennifer Pahlka, Deputy CTO of America under President Obama, frames the difference in administrative cultures by comparing the “waterfall” and “agile” hierarchies:

Agile, that is all the opposite. You’re in a build, measure, learn cycle over and over again. You build something, if it works, you learn from it, you build more. In a waterfall paradigm, the software never touches users until the very end, in what’s called user acceptance testing. That’s very different from agile, in which you are working with users from the very beginning.

At the very top, you have whatever legislative body writes the law. It gets handed off to agencies who write regulations based on the law and policy, and it descends all the way down to the people who create the interfaces that administer that law…. If learning only goes one way, the people who are actually interacting with the users of the system have no way to tell the people who wrote the law what’s working and what isn’t. And we continue not to learn.

Though Pahlka raises objections to the explicitly conservative Schedule F, she identifies a similar cultural problem at the root.

Conservatives tend to frame this problem solely as an ideological war between Trump and the “deep state.” As Pahlka documents in her book Recoding America, this risk-averse culture has obstructed policy goals as straightforward as sending out Medicare checks or building the healthcare.gov website. Managerial culture leads to incompetence, even for bipartisan or left-wing goals.

What conservatives get right is that fundamental civil service reforms are necessary. Culture is made of people. There must be drastic changes to the incentives of individual bureaucrats to fix this culture. Without civil service reform, Pahlka’s policies risk the hiring of new talent just for them to be assimilated into the current culture of managerial dysfunction.

AI provides both the motivation and the means to shift this culture. The AI race means that the U.S. government must compete with China on tech adoption. Simultaneously, AI analyzes precisely the type of information executives need to create a culture of decisiveness.

As AI is adopted, bureaucracies in the private sector and in adversarial governments will make rapid increases in efficiency. Attempts to slow down adversaries will not delay China for more than two to three years. To compete, the U.S. government must speed up the adoption of new technology.

One proven way to change a managerial culture is to give executives more visibility. Every modern company is built with a dashboard that helps executives track progress in each subdivision. AI enables anyone to make qualitative judgements about sentiment, valence, and progress over thousands of documents at the same time. AI creates a more accurate breakdown of how effectively parts of an agency implement an administration’s goals. It gives agency heads the visibility of a company executive, even if the agency wasn’t built with that in mind.

While Schedule F is a move in the right direction, fostering a decisive culture requires a fine-grained approach. AI feeds agency executives exactly the information they need to shape the agency’s broader culture while automating evaluations and workflows.

There is a misconception that fundamental reforms such as Schedule F are synonymous with grand ideological change. In reality, fundamental reforms are necessary for a goal as simple as increasing government competence with software. Prematurely taking them off the table will make even a moderate good governance agenda impossible.

We are approaching a moment where it is politically possible and technologically necessary to act. As Keegan McBride puts it: “If the United States wants to remain competitive in the world’s emergent digital future, it must invest in and modernize its crumbling digital infrastructure, making the digitalization of the state a priority.” Hopefully, America can rise to this call.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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