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Connections: Severe Weather, Universal Health Care, and National Security

by Dr. Lynn S. Kahn, published

Many of us now see the connections between severe weather and new disease patterns. More destructive and more frequent floods, fires, droughts, hurricanes and blizzards can no longer be ignored. Also recognized, changing weather brings new patterns of insects and diseases. Mosquitoes moving north, ticks and Lyme disease spreading west, polio-like illnesses, ancient bacteria in defrosting tundra and everywhere the health impacts of poorly stored or unethically distributed chemicals and toxins.

Severe weather and widespread public health impacts demand an urgent, all-of-government response. Within this response, we may ask weather-related questions about military readiness, true national defense threats, and the impact of extreme weather, especially drought, on global patterns of war and refugee movements.

Bold action regarding climate change, including 100% green energy by 2030, goes hand-in-hand with dramatically expanded networks of public health services and resources. Climate change and universal healthcare connect and become national security mandates.

Three lessons from aviation help structure the all-of-government response to climate change. The lessons come from the seven federal agencies that coordinated the government-industry roadmaps that modernized our national airspace system over the last twenty years. The roadmaps are the foundation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NEXTGEN). Guiding the transition from ground-based radar to satellite-based navigation and communication, NEXTGEN has been as complicated and in many ways as successful as any government-private sector partnership.

Three lessons from NEXTGEN directly apply to leading the government response to climate change:

  • Complicated problems touch many different agencies. The responses to climate change include actions from the National Weather Service, Federal Emergency Management Administration, and the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Transportation, Energy, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Housing, Education and likely Justice.
  • For NEXTGEN, the agencies coordinated through very specific mechanisms. The Senior Policy Committee was a White House chartered (via executive order) team that included a senior representative (the Administrator or Deputy Administrator) that made sure policy changes lined up across government. A Senior Technical Team made sure new programs fit into the overall technical architecture. A Management Team made sure new programs passed specific development milestones and coordinated timelines before funding delivery of the new service or technology.
  • For NEXTGEN, the strategic plans for all involved agencies fit together in an architecture with roadmaps and timelines as the foundation for coordination. Government did testing and certification; private industry invested in the manufacturing of new avionics and new technologies; and airports prepared new runways – all coordinated and integrated. The federal government, led by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), tightly controlled the roll out of investments, contracts, certification of tested technologies, and approvals regarding risk and safety requirements. Basically, programs did not get funded if they did not fit into the overall architecture that transitioned aviation from ground-based radar to satellite-based navigation and communication. Only later did we realize satellite-based surveillance would become so important.

For a whole-of-government response to climate change, like NEXTGEN, the problem is divided into manageable chunks, such as Infrastructure Improvements, Expanded Public Health Services, Emergency Response and Recovery, Transition to 100% Green Energy and Organizational Excellence. Then each chunk develops “solution sets” with accountable technical teams called “Points of Delivery.”  For climate change, the same NEXTGEN mechanisms of coordination provide oversight: the Senior Policy Committee, Senior Technical Team and Management Team coordinate timelines and budgets across programs.

Adding red tape and insane bureaucracy to the challenge of this enormous aviation transition, the federal government is organized like a giant pyramid, each agency operating in their own silo. Even in a “silo of excellence,” communication and coordination outside agency boundaries are mostly lacking. Funding across agencies is even more difficult. NEXTGEN executives had to negotiate with Congress for special budgets and with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget so different parts of one technology could be funded by different agencies.

The FAA led the technical and budget decisions, demanding a discipline to investing in and coordinating required changes. The outcome of the NEXTGEN architecture? America has the safest aviation system in the world.

The only effective structure for driving solutions to complicated problems includes cross-government teams for policy, technical and management coordination. Aviation’s most brilliant engineers, pilots, controllers and technicians delivered NEXTGEN. The role of budget, and the linking of funding to delivered milestones, provided the incentives to share information and coordinate delivery of new services or technical improvements.

The whole-of-government response to climate change and interconnected health care impacts borrows these characteristics from NEXTGEN:

  • The problem is complicated; bring together all agencies touched by this problem. For climate change, this includes the National Weather Service, Federal Emergency Management Administration, and the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Transportation, Energy, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, Housing, Education and likely Justice.
  • Create specific mechanisms to coordinate across agencies. A Senior Policy Committee, Senior Technical Team and Management Team together coordinate policies, legislation, roadmaps, timelines and budgets across programs. The individual technical teams report to the Senior Technical Team and sometimes to the Senior Policy Committee or Cabinet Secretaries and Agency Commissioners.
  • Many agency and office strategic plans must fit together to drive solutions to climate change. This “fitting together” has a different language starting with strategic plans fit into an architecture made up of solution sets and organized around roadmaps with required performance measures and outcomes.
  • NEXTGEN did not encourage sufficient customer and citizen input. Small businesses were often excluded by words or phrases in contracting criteria. Particularly for climate change, where so much energy and innovation can be found, the whole-of-government response must creatively bring together and fund individual entrepreneurs and basement inventors.

Yes, a whole-of-government response to climate change is complicated, with many moving parts. The same coordination described here for the Executive branch of government must also occur in the convoluted committee structure of Congress. Agencies coordinate in the Executive branch, committees in the Legislative branch.

The governance point of view has a new language: an overarching architecture, solution sets, roadmaps and a disciplined acquisition system that demands excellence. My last book called them Performance Networks, the structure that accompanies our transition to governance in the 21st century.

Delivering 100% Green Energy by 2030 is possible by adapting the lessons of NEXTGEN and especially through specific and enduring mechanisms of coordination. We are all moving forward together. We, the People are demanding these changes.

Photo Credit: Piyaset / shutterstock.com

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