Sunday, May 10, 2009

Engineering the US Federal Government

For the past 250 years, give or take, the US Federal Government has been designed, implemented, run and analyzed by lawyers, politicians, lawyers, economists, lawyers, historians, lawyers, "journalists", lawyers, a professional wrestler, lawyers, at least two actors, and maybe even a few lawyers.

I am an engineer by trade, and I could not help but notice that there have been remarkably few engineers in government. That's too bad, because I think we engineers would bring a good perspective to government. Engineering is one of the few professions that must deliver things that actually work. If we deliver a bridge that starts twisting in the wind and crashes into Tacoma Narrows, it is obvious who failed, and we lose our jobs. If we deliver operating systems or software applications that crash too frequently, we lose our jobs. If we deliver hard drives, DVD players, or high definition TV sets that don't work, we lose our jobs. If your power grid goes dark, guess what? If we deliver life critical systems such as medical equipment, airplanes, or nuclear power plants, and they fail, people die, we lose our jobs, and the lawyers come after us. We're ruined.

By contrast, politicians, lawyers, economists, and "journalists" (except for Dan Rather perhaps), can leave a wake of death and destruction a mile wide, and they usually manage to slither away from any responsibility for their mistakes. And the response is nearly always "we didn't do enough -- we need to enhance that last solution". For engineers, repeating the last failure with even more intensity is almost never our strategy. In addition, engineers understand natural systems, especially inverse feedback. Inverse feedback is what keeps electronic amplifiers stable, your body temperature at a constant 98.6F, and your cruise control at 65MPH. It also keeps prices and wages stable in a free, unmolested market. Too few people understand that concept. We need more engineers in government.

1 comment :

  1. So how did we wind up with a federal government that to me could be represented by several hundred thousand Rube Goldberg Machines that essentially produces nothing but a fascination with itself?

    By the way do you know/remember what aerospace/flight operation it was that required the engineers to stay sort of hand in hand with the ones who had to build and fly the products from the get go?


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