Star Power

Could this be the year things get done in California?

by / January 26, 2005
It seems like every time a new governor blows into Sacramento (or any other state capitol, in all fairness), he or she convenes a "blue-ribbon this" or "governor's special that" to scrutinize what's wrong with the state.

The task force -- usually filled with high-powered CEOs and such from the private sector or the halls of academia -- holds a series of meetings, listens to hours of testimony, and after a few months, issues an insightful and far-reaching report on how to fix the problems.

Trouble is, nothing ever seems to come of these exercises. The reports come out, people read them and return to business as usual. "Yawn ... that was interesting. Too bad whoever wrote it doesn't live in the real world."

What is the real world then?

The real world is where change doesn't happen, where the status quo rules and where vested interests refuse to divest themselves of what's precious to them. If a bureaucracy took 100-plus years to get where it is today, how can anybody expect to change it in four or eight years? It's not possible.

Yet everywhere one turns, there's talk about how badly government is broken, how inefficient it is. How it costs too much to do this or how long it takes to get anything done -- let alone anything that smacks of reform.

Is this year any different in California?

In 2004, the California Performance Review released a four-volume report detailing the vast numbers of problems in state government and offering more than 1,200 proposals to fix them. Information technology, of course, featured prominently as one such issue needing attention.

Sniping in opinion pieces in various newspapers cast the "Technology Alignment" section of the CPR's report as nothing more than warmed-over recommendations from blue-ribbon panels past -- tepid offerings with no real substance.

Perhaps, and perhaps not.

As is often heard in practically any IT-related meeting, whether discussing change management or migrating to a single e-mail platform, it's not technology that's the problem.

People are always the problem.

There is one thing going for the CPR report that hasn't been there before -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Say what you will about the governor's qualifications or political style, but the state hasn't seen a leader quite like this for many years. Maybe he doesn't have the political acumen of governors past, but Schwarzenegger has something else entirely -- personality.

Voters like personalities. People want to be led by somebody with a little charisma. It's amazing what charisma can do.

Charisma is one thing that maybe, just maybe, has a chance to change things in California.
Shane Peterson Associate Editor