Monday, March 30, 2009

Putting the “Plan” Back in Planning

Maybe it’s a sign of what Washington has become. People promise plans, then deliver documents that don’t have any kind of plan in them, and think they can get away with it.

Last week, it was the House Republicans, putting out a 19-page pamphlet that barely mentioned the budget and calling it a “budget plan.” When they were quite properly taken to task for that deception, you would think General Motors and Chrysler would know what was coming to them. Both companies had promised turnaround plans as a condition of their emergency loans, but when it came time to deliver, had nothing to offer. General Motors apparently did not start on theirs until the weekend before the deadline, and offered, an hour late, a vague document with no “turnaround” and precious little “plan” in it. Chrysler’s “plan” was even more superficial. At the time, I assumed that General Motors and Chrysler would be rushing to get their real plans to Washington over the next couple of weeks, but from what I am hearing, they never did anything of the kind. They turned in “F” papers and sat back and waited, hoping the professor would return them marked with the “B+” they needed.

Backed into a corner, Obama did the only thing he could do: offered an extension (60 days for General Motors, 30 for Chrysler) in the hope that the two companies would try harder knowing that this was really their last chance. But it should not have been necessary. The executives of these companies had two months to come up with business plans and effectively another month to remedy any defects in the plans. The skeleton of a business plan, the back-of-the-envelope version, takes only about a day to do, but they did not even do that. And I am sure it is not that they did not know how, but that they did not believe it was really necessary.

I am not quite sure how Washington turned into a place where you can promise a plan, deliver a token document with no plan in it, and expect to be taken seriously, but I hope that these stories are an indication that that is now changing.