by Peter B. Gemma
New York resident Lynn S. Kahn earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from The American University in 1977. She worked as an organizational psychologist inside federal agencies for 32 years, including 22 years with the Federal Aviation Administration and for more than six years, represented the agency on the White House Partnership to Reinvent Government. She is now in private practice.
Kahn is the author of three books: Performance Networks: Transforming Governance for the 21st Century (2009), Results at the Edge: The Ten Rules of Government Reform (2003), and Peacemaking: A Systems Approach to Conflict Management (1988).
Peter B. Gemma: Thanks for taking the time for this interview. In your book, Performance Networks: Transforming Governance for the 21st Century, you write, “Multi-agency, cross-boundary coordination and partnerships are needed to solve today’s problems. These networks coordinate, communicate, and leverage resources and best practices to deliver measurable results across traditional agency boundaries.”
What is that about, and how does it relate to your campaign platform?
Dr. Lynn S. Kahn: Thanks Peter. I have a very clear platform that I call “Fix Government, Build Peace” – this means transforming our dysfunctional federal government agency-by-broken-agency while building peace here at home and around the world. The first part requires a total overhaul of every federal agency from changing the mission and focusing priorities to reversing or deleting destructive policies. And it means going deep into the ways our agencies waste taxpayer dollars and inserting new financial requirements that support new priorities. That’s the transformation needed within agencies.
We also need to make changes regarding how federal agencies fail to coordinate with each other. I’ve found that in many cities successful efforts to transform juvenile justice systems rely on a continuum of services for young people entangled in our criminal justice systems – these services may include educational support, job training, mental health counseling, or whatever is needed. To coordinate these kinds of services, I believe local government agencies must work together to help turn around young lives. I call that type of agency coordination a “performance network,” where teams of staff from different agencies work together across traditional agency boundaries to deliver results.
The big problem is that federal agencies plan, budget, and work in isolation. We even have laws and policies that prevent cooperation across agencies that are fighting terrorism. When agencies try to work together, there is no federal office responsible for coordinating programs or integrating funding. I think the solution to this is to establish national goals, such as full employment or reducing mass incarceration or eliminating hunger, that can only be reached by cooperation – then hold the agencies in that partnership accountable for measureable results. We must transform the Office of Management and Budget into an oversight agency that should manage inter-agency coordination yet itself is organized around agency lines.
Gemma: You’ve stated that your goal is the creation of 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years, and that, “everyone who wants a job has a job at a living wage with benefits.” How do you see that happening?
Kahn: I envision a 21st Century economy where everyone that wants a job has a good-paying job with benefits and America is truly competitive in the global economy. There are two parts to making this happen – define the strategic components and then implement immediate actions to meet the urgent needs of ten percent unemployment and 100 million Americans living at or near poverty. I think the results would be clear: an improved infrastructure including highways, railways, airports and airspace, ports, pipelines, and the Internet – plus energy-efficient housing near transportation hubs, public healthcare that taxpayers can actually afford, and a realistic and nonintrusive national security apparatus.
At the same time, we must deal with the urgency of our unemployment crisis. Along with infrastructure jobs, I’ve called for 200,000 new teaching jobs to enroll four-year olds in pre-school, 200,000 jobs for mentors and coaches to assist people diverted or released from our criminal justice system, and 200,000 new slots in AmeriCorps and Jobs Corps.
My White House will give priority to communities with the highest rates of poverty and unemployment. We will deal head on with what gets in the way of progress – over-reaching regulation and political rivalries.
Gemma: You support the Affordable Care Act as a “first step.” What other public health policy initiatives would you promote?
Kahn: I’ve driven about 42,000 miles around America since I announced my candidacy in 2015, and have really changed my views on this. I have heard hundreds of stories about the failures of the Affordable Care Act – especially those high deductibles especially for hospital services and prescription medications mean people are not seeking the health care they need. And now we are seeing insurance agencies and large pharmaceuticals holding Americans hostage to excessive profits.
My most important initiatives will be to focus healthcare on prevention, and to adopt new and cost-saving technologies that dramatically expand public health services. I’d start with putting 100,000 health professionals back in schools and supporting all efforts to bring public health clinics to underserved neighborhoods and communities. I would expand scholarships for health care training and education, eliminate the bureaucratic hurdles for approving new drugs and bringing generic drugs to market, and I would use the large buying powers of government to negotiate better prices for prescription drugs. That would mean enacting legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate prices and allow Medicaid to list cheaper alternative medications.
I’ve talked with health professionals who describe how lawyers and accountants have taken over our healthcare systems and they agree that we could provide basic and free healthcare if we looked at innovative ways to deliver basic services and stop the practices of delivering unneeded and expensive services and procedures to prevent lawsuits.
Gemma: One of your objectives is “100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2030.” What will it take to accomplish that?
Kahn: The mission statement of the U.S. Department of Energy is bizarre and unbelievable. No one agency can possibly balance responsibility for nuclear weapons and a future based on clean sustainable energy. Right now, the priorities and budgets of our Department of Energy favor fossil fuel and nuclear industries and are biased against sustainable energy. I would split apart the Department of Energy, taking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and all offices and laboratories responsible for nuclear weapons and nuclear power out of the DOE, and I’d have them report to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy where we can keep a better eye on money going into nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and the very complex issue of nuclear waste. At the same time, the new U.S. Department of Energy would have a new mission statement: “build partnerships that will implement a realistic transition to an economy and energy grid based on 100 percent green, sustainable energy.” I would set in place as a starting point the strategic plans developed by the Solutions Project and their state-by-state plans to transition to 100 percent clean energy.
Gemma: What are the details of your proposal to reduce Pentagon spending by $48 billion?
Kahn: Did you know that the Department of Defense is the only government agency that cannot pass a financial audit? That’s why we lost $60 billion on fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan and that’s why 95 weapons systems had $295 billion in cost overruns. And we are about to buy outdated weapons systems adding up to $100 billion over 10 years! Many administrations have tried to deal with wasteful military spending and many billions of dollars have been wasted trying to integrate inefficient and duplicative information systems – such as the lack of interoperability between military and veterans healthcare records. So I am certainly not underestimating the power of the military-industrial complex to protect its $600 billion annual budget. That said, there is growing public opinion – and even growing Congressional agreement – that military spending must be contained. I’d like to start by putting a halt to buying outdated weapons as well as inserting new requirements for upfront systems engineering in all programs with a history of cost overruns.
Gemma: You are campaigning on a platform that advocates a one trillion dollar cut in government waste. Can you give me some specifics of your plan?
Kahn: That’s right, I estimate that one-third of the four trillion dollar federal budget is waste. Let me layout some details.
Nine different federal agencies run 47 different job-training programs – taxpayers pay 47 different times for rent, utilities, desks, computers, and supplies. And each agency has their own competitive grant process. We also have 23 agencies fund 679 different renewable energy programs. Duplication in government is widespread and ripe for eliminating waste and generating savings that can jumpstart millions of new jobs.
With respect to duplication, one recent report says 28 percent of federal programs are non-performing which means they do not achieve results or cannot demonstrate that they will ever achieve results. Taxpayers spend about one trillion dollars every year on programs that have no positive impact on anyone, anywhere. I will hold government executives accountable for results or I will freeze these programs and move people and resources to programs that do deliver results or use savings to fund more jobs for more Americans.
My favorite category in reforming government is to stop buying stupid – that could save us $200 billion. We buy stupid things such as research on how to roll up beef jerky. We spend $25 billion maintaining empty federal properties. A Department of Energy program went from $3.8 billion to $47.5 billion while a new analysis shows they could have “only” spent $17 billion if they used a different approach.
Why can’t we cut even five percent of the $1.75 trillion cost of regulations and save our citizens and businesses $87 billion?
Gemma: In an interview you were quoted as saying, “We need a balanced approach that recognizes that there are about 11 million people who have been here for a very long time and haven’t caused any trouble who need a logical, legal path to citizenship.” What restrictions or defenses do you suggest to deter criminal gangs and drug shipments from crossing the border?
Kahn: If we’re going to deter criminal gangs from coming into the U.S. we must first take away their power and authority. For many gang members, this is their only option to escape poverty. We need to decrease the attraction of gangs to the isolated and disenfranchised youth in particular. We need a campaign to destroy the “romance” of gang membership – similar to programs against drunk driving or texting while driving.
To stop gang and drug trafficking, we must strengthen the border. Border Patrol agents must work more closely with state, local and tribal law enforcement to restrict illegal movement. Give our border agents the right staffing, the right tools, the right training, and the right priorities to focus on those who mean us harm. Gang members should be held until they can be deported back to their country of origin, since simply sending them back across the border does nothing. At the same time, we must improve border programs so legitimate workers can cross the border.
I believe we must move Family Detention Centers out of the Department of Homeland Security so we treat women, children, and young families with more compassion while recognizing that some gang members are as young as 10 years old. We must stop the turf wars among agencies, especially as it relates to drug enforcement. Agencies need to find a way to share information and intelligence to better enforce drug laws and smuggling laws.
Finally, we have to accept that the “war on drugs” has been a failure. As long as drugs are illegal, they will be smuggled into the country. Legalizing marijuana is a logical first step – it’ll allow us to control and tax its sale, and gives the tobacco farmers who are being subsidized not to grow tobacco a crop to grow. Just like prohibition, there is no logic for marijuana to be illegal. By legalizing recreational drugs, we reduce the income and power of the drug cartels and increase our tax base. Once drugs are legalized, we must strengthen the punishments for drug smuggling with specific laws – amounts for personal use are simply not an acceptable cause for arrest and incarceration.
Gemma: A central theme in your campaign is “peace-building,” and you have called for ending drone strikes. What are your thoughts on U.S. Middle East policy?
Kahn: The purpose of our military is to protect the homeland, and the purpose of American foreign policy is to build peace. My approach in all major conflict zones around the world is clear: the United States is the global leader in initiating and supporting ceasefires and peace talks, and our strategy is always negotiated solutions to violence and working with our international partners to stop the flow of weapons, money, and fighters into conflict zones.
With respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. role should be to renew peace talks to negotiate a durable ceasefire and establish sustainable plans for educational and economic development in Palestine. The historic goal of a two-state solution and the framework established by the Geneva Accord and Arab Peace Initiative is the starting point. This includes stopping the expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank and stopping American financial support for expansion of these settlements. Whether peace talks are U.S.-sponsored or we support a regional peace conference convened by Middle East political leaders, the U.S. role is to support ceasefires and peace talks with economic development in Palestine as the basic requirement for forward movement.
The immediate priority is to defeat the Islamic State and to bring an end to the civil war in Syria. The recent ceasefire in Syria has been damaged by Russian airstrikes on a United Nations aid convoy and U.S.-backed Saudi airstrikes on Syrian soldiers. This proves everyone is not on the same page at the same time. Given that ISIS has in fact suffered many setbacks in recent months, I’d say now is the time to stop all airstrikes at least until we have a clear, integrated plan for who is doing what. To regain Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria will require honest agreements about whose troops are on the ground, including U.S.-trained Sunni tribesmen, Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite militias, Iraqi Kurdish, or American and international troops.
Progress requires honest partnerships – Saudi Arabia has recently admitted that it has funded groups that have engaged in terrorist activities since before 9/11. We must demand a new level of honesty among our international partners and between our government and the American people.
The United States and our allies must acknowledge that 15 years of war has not accomplished much in the Middle East. Our “war on terror” has driven far too many alienated and angry young people into the arms of terrorists who exploit the lack of opportunity in too many countries in this region. We must talk now with our allies and especially regional political leaders about the shape of the future political structures that will help people rebuild the entire region. This approach should promote less centralized structures to discourage governments that exclude minorities and encourage more equal distribution of political power and economic benefits.
Gemma: Why are you in favor of public financing of elections?
Kahn: I am in favor of all forms of election reform: open primaries, non-partisan redistricting, term limits, public financing of elections, and overturning Citizens United. The broken two-party system and a compromised media have silenced the voices of independent and third party candidates. Fundraising for many of us has been particularly difficult. Public financing would give every candidate the opportunity to be judged on the merits of our wisdom and plans to address the challenges facing America today. I see public financing as expanding free speech not limiting the voices heard to the very rich or very powerful.
Gemma: On what state ballots will your name appear? I understand that in Iowa, you went a different route rather than filing as an independent to get ballot certified. Share some of your ballot access experiences.
Kahn: We are on the ballot in Arkansas and Iowa, and we were on the ballot in New York but then got kicked off – “invalidated” – September 15th. I filed an appeal last week and may join a lawsuit next week. We have also submitted documents to be write-in candidates in 19 states.
I have written several articles and blogs about ballot access and the subtitle is always “Laughing Through the Tears.” The rules for getting on the ballot are different in every state and they are often bizarre and incredibly difficult to track down and interpret. Is the signature petition page online or do you create your own? Is the petition printed out one-sided or two-sided? Is the petition to be printed out on 8½ x 11 paper or 11 x 14? Do you identify your Presidential Electors before you collect signatures or when you hand in your signatures – or after you have been certified or after the election? The rules are different in each and are especially problematic for independent candidates who do not belong to a third party that may have already gained access in some states. I support the overall platform of the New Independent Party Iowa and I especially support the efforts of small parties with a centrist, problem-solving approach to become established in any state. I happily accepted their nomination.
Gemma: Kathleen Monahan, who you’ve described as a strategic planner with expertise in homeland security and border control, is your “stand in” running mate. In Iowa, Jay Stolba, a semi-retired businessman, will appear as the Vice President nominee. Why have a stand-in, and when will you have a complete ticket?
Kahn: Independent tickets are more fluid than the conventional two-party process. In 1980, John Anderson named Milton Eisenhower as his stand-in running mate for ballot access and then chose Patrick Lucey as his official running mate. In 1992, James Stockdale was a vice presidential stand-in for Ross Perot and then became his official running mate. Right now, Kathleen Monahan is my running mate and Jay Stolba is my stand-in in Iowa. Conversations are ongoing among several independent Presidential candidates – stay tuned for breaking news!
Gemma: Finally, will you continue your political activities after November, particularly in building a third party?
Kahn: I am committed to supporting independent politics and independent candidates for the rest of my life. I believe the current two-party system is morally bankrupt and financially corrupt. I believe America is in trouble and the current two-party system has not solved our problems regarding the economy, healthcare, education, and the environment while launching us into multiple wars that did not have to be fought. Divisive partisanship will not allow any Democrat or Republican to successfully lead our nation and only an independent President has any chance of rescuing our republic from the current state of affairs. Whether my commitment is to align myself with one particular third party or start a new independent party or work with several proposed structures to bring together independent candidates and third parties remains to be seen – right now I’m pretty busy running for President.