Gov 2.0 stocking stuffer: ‘If We Can Put a Man on the Moon …’

If We Can Put a Man on The Moon ... Getting Big Things Done in Government

If Gov 2.0 is the public servant Sisyphean task du jour, then If We Can Put a Man on the Moon … Getting Big Things Done in Government is the stocking stuffer of the season.

Authors William D. Eggers and John O’Leary wrote ‘If We Can Put a Man on the Moon …’ to answer one question:

What happens if you look at large government undertakings from a process perspective?

With ‘If We Can Put a Man on the Moon …,’ Eggers and O’Leary offer a neatly packaged game plan for confronting big idea execution ‘traps,’ complete with examples of large-scale change successes. Heroes range from Transportation Safety Administration’s Idea Factory blog and ‘Evolution of Security’ Web site to bureaucrats like NASA’s James Webb and the lesser-known Dwight Ink.

Not since Reinventing Government has there been a book (I’ve read) that addresses reform with real-world solutions and inspiration that large-scale government change, local or federal, can actually occur.

If We Can Put a Man on the Moon … restores that hope.

More ‘If We Can Put a Man on the Moon … ‘

Gov 2.0 Radio interview with authors:


Video interview:

Favorite excerpts


There are too many big challenges out there. Finding and nurturing good policy ideas should no longer be considered the job of the public sector alone.

If our government is to reclaim a reputation for competency … We will need a political culture that values and honors the capable management of public undertakings; a political culture that values the public servants who tell the unpleasant truths to the political masters. We don’t have enough of either today.

Citizen feedback and collaboration:

Through the ‘Evolution of Security’ Web site, airline passengers have an opportunity to dialogue with bloggers from TSA — not PR flacks but real people with full-time jobs on the front lines of airport security; people like TSA blogger Jay, a former high school football coach who is now a federal security directory. “The blog is intended to bridge the gap with people who have legitimate issues with the TSA,” Jay blogged. “There’s no doubt some people have had a bad experience with the TSA. Our job is to fix what’s broken, but hey let’s face it — security is a tough business. There’s an old saying, ‘Security is a great thing … until it applies to me.'” The Evolution of Security site offers TSA employees a chance to educate the public, to explain why taking your shoes off may not be as silly as it seems.

Internal feedback and collaboration:

TSA has forty-three thousand workers on the front line. They have ideas about how both they and TSA headquarters could do their work better. TSA created an internal Web site called “Idea Factory” that uses a wiki platform to allow TSA management to tap into that pool of wisdom. The Idea Factory has become kind of a supersized brainstorming session where TSA’s leadership can put out questions to the organization: “How can we improve morale?” “How can we improve the check-in process?” “What should our new uniforms look like?” The Idea Factory allows leadership to get unfiltered, unsolicited ideas from the front lines. No doubt some of these ideas make TSA management a tad uncomfortable. It’s worth it. Six months after launching the Idea Factory, more than twenty TSA policies had been changed in response to employee suggestions.

Find critics:

Another lesson from California is that lawmakers involved in transformational change need to actively seek out critics. If none can be found, dissenting voices need to be created for the very purpose of exposing possible design flaws.

Understand culture:

A mismatch between culture and mission can undermine transformational efforts. Similar mismatches can occur, for example, when social workers and others in the helping professions are asked to be ‘enforcers,’ in essence turning in their clients. Think twice before asking an organization to work outside its cultural zone.


The journey to success is a single process with a single result. It involves a series of phases, often performed by different people, but it is a single process. Initiatives in the public sector are particularly vulnerable to being undermined by a failure to see the whole process. Great results can be delivered only if the pieces work together: designers and implementers, politicians and bureaucrats, government agencies and private contractors.

On Democracy:

In a democracy, each of us contributes to creating our future. The media’s focus on those at the top of the power pyramid often makes it seem as though leadership is the province of the chosen few. No doubt those in positions of power can make a big impact. But so can you.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. All of the participants in democratic government–elected leaders, those who work in the public sector, and citizens–play a role in creating the future. The goal of this book is to advance the art and practice of public sector management, particularly on large undertakings. Our hope is that no matter who your are, there will be something of benefit to you as together we engage in the democratic process.

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh, co-founder/CEO of ProudCity and co-host of the podcast, The Government We Need. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.