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Published: August 29, 2007

 
 

The Thought Leader Interview: Anne-Marie Slaughter

When you look closely, there’s not much hard data to support this. But it remains a politically explosive issue. On the conservative side, there’s the controversy over judges. In fact, it’s good for regulators, judges, and many other officials to be exposed to the rest of the world. But it’s easy to whip up popular sentiment against this. And one could imagine Congress saying to government officials, “You can’t talk to your foreign counterparts unless you report to us first.” That would cripple American ability to operate in a globalized world.

The real problem is that the left hand often does not know what the right hand is doing. A network of environmental regulators can be harmonizing laws or adopting standards in ways that are quite inconsistent with what a network of trade or antitrust officials might be doing. We won’t get the most out of government networks unless they operate with a sense of a more integrated national interest, rather than the interests of the individual officials.

S+B: How would a government  leader accomplish that?
SLAUGHTER:
Imagine for a minute that we were starting over with the design of a new republic. Instead of already having these massive buildings in Washington, D.C., each a block long and wide, with an entrenched bureaucracy, we could design them from scratch. We would link every official virtually, through sophisticated computer technology, with anyone else in the U.S. government who works on related issues. When a problem came up, we would assemble a flexible task force or team, like they do in the business world.

When they hear things like this, people in government say, “That’s the interagency process.” But it’s not. In that process, each agency decides what it wants and then they try to hammer out a formal structure for solving the problem. In the Princeton Project [on National Security] meetings, Joseph Nye talked about “dual-hatting” people: having them work for two agencies at once to allow them to bridge the different institutional interests and develop working relationships. It’s not that hard, but you’ve got to go a long way in terms of mind-set and even physical architecture. You have to create the kind of virtual architecture — the electronic structures — that can compensate for those massive, closed-off buildings.

The good news is that the next generation of government officials, the kids that we’re sending in, are already wired, and they’re used to working much more collaboratively. That psychological shift is taking place around the world. Since publishing A New World Order, I’ve been called to talk to foreign ministries in Denmark and Germany. Traditional diplomats everywhere are trying to figure out their new roles. What do they do, as the official face of the nation, now that there are all of these unofficial faces? Is it enough to convene the players? Do they set the agenda? I think different governments will have different answers.

Insiders and Outsiders

S+B: Do today’s government networks include businesspeople?
SLAUGHTER
: Some do. The membership of IOSCO, the securities commission network, is fascinating. They have dealers and traders associations along with markets and government securities commissioners. In a way, that has replaced the old structure of lobbying — the old back rooms or marble corridors. Indeed, some NGOs complain that when you move decision making to these remote locations, they can’t get in as easily.

We need more systematic research. Is it true that lobbying is moving to networks? And if so, what does that suggest about accountability and governance?

S+B: What’s the optimal amount of transparency for government in a networked age? Would you expect to see open-system markups on every piece of legislation?
SLAUGHTER:
I hope not. We’re ending a period of hyper-secrecy and we’re headed for major reforms. But within those reforms, sometimes you need to allow the sausage to be made in the dark. I mean, you can’t do any difficult deal making or experimentation when everyone can see everything. And many truly valuable government actions start when people try things that are politically unpalatable or genuinely experimental. If you can’t do that, if the networks are to be universally transparent, then you might as well retain all those old bureaucratic formalized procedures.

 
 
 
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