Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Romney's new whiz kids

A recent TIME magazine piece about former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney suggested that if he were elected president, he would hire consultants (likely the behemoth McKinsey or Bain, his old stomping ground) to "fix" the government. Romney would attempt to bring all of the models, slides, cost cutting, optimization, ROI calculations, and general business experience to fixing the federal government.

Romney would also bring the hordes of hyper ambitious, already overly successful brilliant twenty somethings that are the main workforce of elite management consulting firms to help fix the government. While fixing the government is not a new idea (it conjures up an image from another era of then-Vice President Al Gore with a forklift of government regulations, recruiting brilliant recent college graduates to do it is. Who better to pore over the hundreds of billions of dollars of waste in the federal budget than America's best and brightest? (Though without a line item veto, a President Romney would have to resort to more esoteric methods of eliminating the waste, such as embarrassing the congressman or senator sponsoring the item.)

Instead of paying the enormous consulting fees that McKinsey would charge, Romney could even recruit these people directly into his administration. One major problem with recruiting such young people into the government is the opportunity cost of working for the government instead of working for one of the top consulting firms is tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. On the one hand, older businessman for whom money is not a concern may be better financially suited for this job. On the other hand, providing these young people a benefit such as student loan repayments or scholarships to business or law school (in addition to a modest but livable salary) may be compensation enough.

Perhaps this is also a ploy to appeal to the young private sectors who at the moment tentatively supporting Illinois Senator Barak Obama, while holding out for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to enter the race. Many of these voters are looking for a non-politician to bring the kind of practical experience they see in their jobs to the government, and if Bloomberg won't do it, maybe Romney will.

The main problem with Romney is that while many business savvy voters like his style, his policies (at the least his presidential candidacy incarnation of them) are an anathema. As Jonathan Last wrote in sacbee.com last month, "The gentleman running as Mitt Romney looks and sounds like an android created by James Dobson and Grover Norquist." The question remains if Romney wins the primary election, will he drop the absurd fa├žade of a social conservative anti-government tax cutter and instead run the competence-over-values campaign that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has run and that has suited Romney better all along.

If this country does see a President Romney in January 2009, look for a horde of bright young consultants shaking up government. Creating the new incarnation of Robert McNamara's whiz kids may be just the thing this country needs.

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