Government Has a Trust Problem

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My latest column in Governing looks at the trust problem in government (and other institutions in our society), and asks how those of us who run institutions can start addressing it. Obviously not everything is within our control. But some things are. And those are what need focus. Here’s an excerpt:

Trustworthiness is baseline ethics and operational integrity. Completely eliminating corruption from government will never happen, and all human beings do bad things from time to time, so we should never expect totally clean government. But the coronavirus pandemic has revealed how often officials make unforced errors. A number of governors, mayors and other senior state and local officials flagrantly violated their own public health orders. These sorts of behaviors destroy public trust. We have to do much better than this. Public officials have shifted their stance on masks, first opposing them, then mandating them. There’s nothing wrong with changing course in volatile situations. We should expect that. But these changes have been poorly rolled out and poorly explained to the public.

Trust requires institutional competence. Simply put, that’s the ability to get things done. While there are valid reasons to criticize big tech, these companies have proven extremely competent. Amazon was able to expand and adjust to unprecedented demand during the pandemic. Apple’s products work as advertised. Google Maps does what I want it to.

Unfortunately, our public sector has not been able to address many problems so successfully. Problems that have become much worse recently, such as homelessness and crime, are extremely complicated to solve. But the public rightly expects government to be able to deliver. Vaccine distribution does not appear to the average person to be as inherently complex as crime. Yet we read reports of health-care workers forced to throw away vaccine doses or even being prosecuted for not doing so.

Click through to read the whole thing.