Is Government Essential Work or Knowledge Work?

Of course it’s both. From mail carriers to cabinet secretaries, people working with the most classified intelligence to National Park rangers, the actual nature and content of the work vary widely.

But the impending transition is another huge opportunity to really rethink how we think about government work, which is famously (if not always fairly) pilloried for being stuck far behind the times.

Even under the present, Covid-denying administration, lots of work that was previously impossible to do remotely started getting done remotely. From January onward, with the virus raging out of control (and, yes, a vaccine on the horizon), what will an administration that’s serious about Covid do about workforce practices and policies?

If substance follows style, there should be room to make some unprecedented experiments with remote and digital work. This carries risks and inconveniences, of course, but it did the same for bankers, doctors, and other professions that were totally hooked on the in-person experience — and they’ve all more or less carried on.

I can’t enumerate all the downside risks here, but the upside seems significant: it’s a great impetus to make government more flexible, responsive, and secure. And it would seem there’s substantial downside risk in bringing everyone into the office — a West Wing outbreak would be bad PR on its face, and presumably quite dangerous for the oldest president in history.

We finally broke up with floppy disks a couple years ago. Let’s see how much we can catch up — or get ahead — over the next six months or so.