Opinion | Would the Founders Have Applauded Our Handling of Covid-19?

It is amazing what the 18th-century inventors would have loved. Three vaccines were developed by U.S. companies or co-developed with them at lightning speed. They were approved by the government in record time. They were funded directly and indirectly by tax payers. (It is important to note that there were also vaccine trials that failed and were dropped without any recrimination. This is good. This is science. Digitalization of city services was achieved overnight in order to allow building permits to be obtained and for unemployment benefits to be applied for. States have found new ways of communicating with residents. Governors often followed the data and shut down and opened new doors as they saw fit. To keep students connected digitally, yellow school buses were wired with Wi-Fi. To keep people fed, autonomous ones were even reused. It was easier for citizens to create PPE and obtain vaccines. The frontline medical personnel and the people who supported them innovated every day to survive, and then to innovate to help millions more. Science, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship were all used to fight a society-threatening moment. It would have been a proud moment for the founders.There was also some dithering along the way. The tests were not enough. It was too late to trace at scale. The digital divide remained unbridged. There should have been hundreds of initiatives in 2020 to ensure that more children are able to enter school buildings safely in the fall. In 2020, the fall should have been a time for innovative ideas to get vaccines into winter schools. On this front, we should be asking ourselves why Vax-a Million was only implemented in May and what other opportunities were missed to spread vaccinations to skeptical people earlier in the year. We also helped inequitably, delaying efforts for this country to fulfill its promise of equality for all.History books will tell you that although we did manage to escape the pandemic, it was not fast enough to spare more people or prevent more destruction. What can we do to make July 5th a better day?We need to first be honest about the flaws of current status quo. This is the time to assess which public services actually work and which are pretending to be working. Thomas Paine started his Common Sense, which helped to birth the nation. A long-standing habit of not thinking a wrong thing gives it a superficial appearance that it is right. But when it comes down to public education, infrastructure sustainability, workforce readiness, and public safety, custom just doesn't cut it. The shaky Board of Elections in New York City has been a tired example.We must also be able to test new programs and services in a prudent way. The American Rescue Plan provides more money for relief than the stimulus funds. The $350 billion of funding is intended to address both the economic and public health emergencies. ARPAs are eligible uses. Federal guidelines use flexibility twice more. Governors and mayors have broad discretion in how they spend the money. They should embrace innovation.This isn't an invitation for foolhardiness. There are skills that can be used by government to pursue new programs and services. These may, because they are novel, reduce waste and maximize learning. These skills should be used by public leaders at this very moment. Before building new ideas fully, you should test them in part. You can scale them up by using government as a platform (i.e. Building a platform for others to build on or connect with. GPS was one of the many government projects that allowed for endless private innovation, most of it for the public good. We are prepared for the next generation.All of these efforts to create the future won't succeed. Most of these new initiatives fail. It is believed that small successes can more than make up the smaller ones. Mayor Melvin Carter, who is responsible for transforming the safety of Saint Paul, Minn.'s citizens, said that it was likely that we wouldn't be able to do everything right the first time. Leaders must learn from their mistakes and then move on.We should also make sure that our public investments are directed to programs that will help us build a better future. Federal agencies must quickly deploy $1 billion to modernize tech in the American Rescue Plan. This means that cities and states need to expand their digital services teams and leverage their relief funds (yes tech and data investments are permitted) and other funding sources. To make America future-ready, support efforts such as Code for America, Coding It Forward, The Tech Talent Project and the U.S. Digital Response for their services and to attract a new generation of public servants.Since too many years, governments have held that a crisis is an awful thing to waste. It is not something that is being said, but it is clear that there is no way to make things better. Today, we hear a different utterance. Our agility will remain when Covid is gone.It is my hope. Although it is not likely, it would be very American.