In 1731, our most ingenious, and frugal, Founding Father – Benjamin Franklin – had a stroke of genius: a circulation library. Since everyone loves a good book, yet since few can afford one, why, he wondered, not share books? And why not establish a central repository where they could reside? We can, I think, apply that same philosophy to the modern needs of our federal government – just as he might, but with a few twists to reflect the potential power of the Internet to facilitate our frugality. Today, we all love a good penny – that is, we all want funds for our component or initiative or cause. But, as with books in colonial Philadelphia, we can’t afford all, or even most, of what we want. The solution is a public service “library,” housed on a central website, for sharing tasks and resources across government agencies and intra-departmental components. For example, while many government employees are overworked, many others are not or would be willing to give a little more in the name of something that matters. Certain employees, especially but not limited to support staff, would, as part of their job descriptions, offer a certain number of hours of specialized support per day, and other government employees could borrow these services in order to accomplish a given task. Resources – whether training or documents or Web support or guidance or even books – could be shared, too. An initiative normally requiring a full office and ten staffers could be accomplished with two. Although there are obvious hurdles that would need to be addressed, e.g., confidentiality, they should not prevent us from trying something only possible today, because of the Internet, and the logical, and historically grounded, next step for the federal government in consolidating resources while multiplying results.
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