“Moon Shot” For Cancer Cure? Not Possible Unless Requirements are Clear!

picture2I, along with others, listened intently to President Obama and Vice President Biden talk emotionally about a “Moon Shot” for a cure for cancer.  Congress is on board, along with just about every American.  After all, the cause is noble, the life saving potential is clear, so let’s all just move on and get it done – right?

I have been a project manager for decades, mainly in the Federal Government and I can tell you that just the pure definition of “Moon Shot” is a misnomer to this very large (and expensive) venture for which we have embarked.

First, the original moon shot had a time frame.  President Kennedy stated in his State of the Union address very specifically the time frame for landing on the moon – by years end of 1969 (“by the end of the decade”).  Okay, what is the time frame of the Cancer “Moon Shot?”   I see that there is web site that speaks to the Moon Shot 2020 initiative, which so far is split into 3 Phases, the last one implementing new immunotherapy by 2020.  In this instance, at least there is a time frame explicitly stated, so at least something is in relative stone, although the “intermediate” steps to these 3 Phases is still in “fluidity.”  This could be an issue in the future since 2020 is less than 3 years away!

However, even President Obama does not believe that a cure can be completed in that amount of time.  President Obama stated to a group of school kids that “[cancer] probably won’t be cured in my lifetime, but I think it will be cured in yours.” (http://www.politico.com/story/2016/01/joe-biden-cancer-research-moonshot-217854).  This is one of the champions of the “Moon Shot.”  That is not a real confidence builder for me if I was the project manager on this one.

Second, the physical goal of the Cancer “Moon Shot” is a moving target.  The Moon was not unpredictable.  We could calculate the orbit of the Moon and make the adjustments accordingly to plan the landing — even where to put the Lunar Excursion Module.  Cancer is a very unpredictable disease since it adapts to individuals and progresses at times silently until the body reacts.  If the goal is to get an immunotherapy by 2020, how will the disease look then?  With the genome map, will the disease adapt to new environments? Cancer is still a moving target.  The frustrations that exist in this endeavor are those that have existed since we have started this battle and will continue until we can get a step ahead of the cancer.  Maybe the REAL goal is not to provide immunotherapy, but to predict where it will strike and prevent it.  A vaccine might be something that will help, but certainly this is not small pox or polio, although at the time these diseases were as illusive and cunning as cancer is now.

Finally, what is the number one killer of people in the United States?  I keep hearing that it is cancer and that would be false!  The number one killer in the US is the same one that has existed for decades (that’s right – decades) — heart disease.  If you do not believe me, then I refer you to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which publishes a yearly look at deaths from various causes (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr65/nvsr65_05.pdf*).  We have yet to solve the heart disease problem, although we are making progress in the treatment and prevention of the disease, but all of this comes down to making small steps.

So, let’s review.  The three areas of a project that are vital are cost, time, and quality.  The cost for this project has yet to be specified, since studies could increase in cost as well as the various costs for new research facilities, bureaucracies (like the National Institutes of Health departments that will be developed as a result of this initiative), and other as of yet unspecified costs.  The only time frame I see is for the 3 Phases and the 2020 end date.  It took 10 years (or close to it) to get two humans on the Moon.  It cost billions, and a number of lives in the process.  That was the 1960s!  And the most important thing is that there is a champion like Joe Biden who has taken on the initiative, but even scientists are concerned that his clout will wane after he leaves office (http://www.politico.com/story/2016/01/joe-biden-cancer-research-moonshot-217854).  At this point, although there is a great start to the requirements (the quality end of project management), the actual milestones are few which can lead to some problems in the future when the “lesser” more attainable requirements are avoided for the more “optical” results.

And please remember that this is all a good cause, but the numbers that die from cancer are still less than those that die from heart disease.  I did a little research on age vs disease and the results are below.  From this chart you can see that the death from cancer occurs at younger ages than heart disease.  If the Cancer 2020 effort is focusing on older study patients are they really focusing on that age group that is the proper target?  Just food for thought.

picture1

I wish the study a great deal of good fortune.  Eliminating cancer is something that will undoubtedly help us a nation to build our future with our present population.  And it is easy to cheer on this effort.  Its nobility is something that is indisputable.

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Political Appointee? – Don’t Be a “Bucket Leader!”

drip

In a little more than a month we will have a new President and, in preparation for his transition, there are plenty of Political Appointees that either have already been selected, or are about to get their letter of congratulations.

As a former employee of the Federal Government in several agencies over 30 years, I can tell you that the anticipation of these new political appointees is similar to waiting for a root canal.  The pain seems to get worse as the time approaches.  Although I am writing this article so that the new appointees will get a little preparation before going to their new post, I also doubt that many will read the advice since some of them already know EVERYTHING that goes on in the government, even if they have never served a day of federal government employment in their life.

So, as a stage setting measure, let me tell you something about being a Federal Government employee.

First, most employees of the Federal Government are hard-working individuals that feel their employment makes a difference and they do their job with a dedication and loyalty that would bring tears to your eyes.  There are some that are lazy and apathetic, but I would dare say that those types exist in every avenue of employment whether they are public or private industry.

Second, most employees of the Federal Government have FORGOTTEN more than you will ever KNOW about how the government process works, especially if you have never been a government employee.  They understand the regulations and the different elements of getting the job done, and have done so in spite of these regulations for decades.  They know what they are doing and sometimes just acknowledging that knowledge is enough to keep them going for another year or so.

Third, think of the Federal Government employee like a sailor on an aircraft carrier called the USS Government.  As any Navy person will tell you, it takes miles to turn an aircraft carrier, and so the analogy fits with the agency that you are about to join.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, gets done in a year.  Here’s why:

August – Contracting, HR, Budget, Accounting and the rest of the people who make the agency work are getting ready for the new fiscal year.  Everybody is trying to spend the money that they were budgeted so that they can “clear the books” for the new fiscal year.

September – Remember August?  Well, it is worse now because those departments that are behind in their spending are REALLY spending now just to catch up.  It is chaos.

October – New fiscal year and everyone is clearing the decks.  The new budget is being vetted and everyone is taking a breath

November – Veterans Day, Thanksgiving is happening this month and people are starting to get ready for the holidays, but work continues given those holidays.  It starts to slow in productivity.

December – Productivity is slow, but work still continues.  People are starting to get ready for the real big holidays coming up.  Christmas happens and people are leaving for the holiday

January – New Years, Martin Luther King Day and productivity is still lower than normal, but slowly ramping up.  Snow is lurking on the East Coast and Mid-West, and maybe one or two snow days are in the mix.

February – Presidents’ Day and at least one big snow fall, calling for as much as a week away from work.  Productivity is still level but people are cautious about coming in to work on the East Coast, where most of the HQ locations exist.

March – Work in full swing and productivity is up.  No government holidays until May.

April – Same/Same.  Easter is in there, but the month is stable and the weather is warmer.  Full productivity

May – Memorial Day starts the summer vacation season, but for the most part May is productive

June – Summer vacations now that school is out.  Projects are complete or nearing completion (from those started two years ago as a minimum).

July – Starting to think about the new fiscal year.  Budget and accounting are starting to close out invoices so that the new year can be prepared.

August – “Which brings us back to DOE” (apologies to Sound of Music)

The above example does not mean that the employees do not work for the entire 12 months, but most of them work so hard you want them to take the time to recharge or else they will burn out and, unlike private industry, will just shut down enough to get through your tenure, still remaining in your office.  You want to ensure this burn out does not happen.  So, from this little example, you can see that there is a rhythm to this whole cycle.  As I told someone once, “it is not that you want to step on any toes, you just want to ensure that everyone knows the choreography.”  You have to know the dance steps so you won’t be embarrassed.  Trust me, you may serve upwards of 8 years, but your tenure can be cut short if you do not play well with others.

I have seen it.  I have seen political appointees removed from federal buildings in handcuffs and not in handcuffs.  I have seen them packing their boxes and no one saying good-bye to them as they took the exit walk out the front door.  You do not want to be one of those – right?  Here are some somethings to do (and not to do)

Do:

  1. Get to know the people in your office prior to espousing your philosophy of how things were done in private industry.  Federal Government is not private industry (and never will be).  There is no profit made here (no matter how hard you try).  When I say get to know them, I do not mean the 5 minute “tell me about yourself” horse poop.  I am talking about 30 minutes with each one after you review their personnel file so that you can find out about their quality of life priorities.  You are in this agency for a few years, they may be here for decades.
  2. I hate to say it this way – but sit down and shut up.  That’s right, no pontificating, no grand speeches, no talk about this is how things are going to go when YOU are in charge.  Let your actions speak much louder than your words.  If you want to give an entrance speech, say that you want to “learn from your troops.”  And THEN DO JUST THAT!
  3. Get to understand the agency’s process. READ THE AGENCY STRATEGIC PLAN!  Know the main points.  Understand that every year this plan changes so also understand the frustration that is associated with a “FNG” coming in to the place with THEIR plan rather than the AGENCY plan.  Do your homework now so you won’t be in a rut when you first arrive.
  4. I realize that you had all these perks when you were in private industry, but it is different when you get to the agency.  You may not have a driver or a car and may even have to get your own coffee.  If you are already doing this – great!  If you have not done this, you may want to do this when you first arrive and it will make a great difference in how people see you.  You are the leader – lead by example.
  5. Recognize good work (not just work for you).  People that are doing more than their share need that recognition.  Freely give it to them, preferably in public.

DO NOT:

  1. Ridicule in public – ever.  If you want to isolate your loyalty, then ridicule people in public.  If someone is silent in one your meetings and you want them to say something then ask them nicely.  “Sue, I would value your opinion on this issue” is much better than “If you have nothing to say, Sue, then maybe you should not come to these meetings.”  I have actually been in meetings when the political appointee said things like this to me.  I shut up (or never went to another meeting).
  2. Espouse your philosophy on the first day.  Your vision is something that needs revising and revisiting – period.  Some of these employees have already had their guidance at the beginning of the fiscal year.  You are popping in January (already at the 25% point of the fiscal year), so do not expect that people can turn on a dime.  Save it for the Spring and spend the January/February/March time frame giving your employees some time to get used to you.
  3. Be a “bucket leader.”  My father used this term to denote someone who comes in like a person placing their hand in a bucket of water and splashing it around.  When they remove their hand, the water will go back the way it was.  Unless you set the stage for long-term change, that is exactly what will happen after you leave.

Now, I am saying all this because I am assuming you WANT to make good impression or make long-term change.  If you are coming into the agency to build your resume and do not care about the government agency, then I cannot say I am surprised, just disappointed.  You will join some others that preceded you.  But I have to tell you that I have seen some political appointees that were fantastic, left a great impression, changed the agency for the long term because instead of changing something big, they focused on small changes that helped the overall process without interrupting the routine of individuals in a big way.  It is those appointees that made a difference.

Like I said in the beginning, if you just take a few of these points and use them it will make a great difference in your time at the government agency.  If this comes off a little strong, I am sorry for being presumptuous, but just thank God that I am a retired government employee and do not have to relive those transitions, and hope that these few words can help you make a very smooth transition.  Sometimes they are just like a root canal, but other times they are like a root canal without anesthesia.

Good Luck!

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Screwy Presidential Election? – It’s Happened Before!!

rbh-and-truman

Rutherford B. Hayes (Background)/Harry Truman (Foreground)

I hesitated a few weeks to post this article because the wound is still fresh for those that feel that the presidential election was so uniquely unfair that they felt protesting was the only answer.  I have done some research, and along with some basic statistics, felt that sharing this information may at least give people food for thought.  I will never change individual minds on the outcome (some of them in my own family), but maybe (just maybe) we can all take a breath and realize that these types of elections have happened before.

Some of the things I have heard:

  1.  Get rid of the electoral college.  This type of thing didn’t happen in the past!
  2.  This President-Elect did not get the popular vote.  How can we do this when we are a democracy!
  3.  We will never heal, but be divided forever, thanks to the electorate that voted for this President
  4.  This is just unfair

The first point is very clearly something that may have to be readdressed given the nature of modern America.  The reason for the Electoral College was to ensure that populations in rural areas were counted, which is one reason according to one site (http://www.historycentral.com/elections/Electoralcollgewhy.html) was to equalize the small and large states so that a manipulation of the citizenry would not result in a President elected that would be a tyrant.  The source goes on to say that the small states wanted this compromise in order to approve the Constitution at the Convention in the 1780s.  From a statistical point of view, this is very smart.  In essence, the Electoral College acts as the “standard deviation” or “standard normal curve” to the election process, equalizing the results so that every state is treated in a fair way.  If we take a look at the populations of the states today, and the Presidential Election was done with population only, then the candidate would need only a few states to take the election, California being one of them.   “What a minute!” I hear you say.  If a person wins California NOW they can still take the Electoral Votes in that state.  Yep, but the bottom line is that if the candidate barely wins smaller states, or larger states, even though they do not get the popular vote, they get that state’s electoral votes.  You want to get rid of the Electoral College?  Contact your Congressional Representative and start a Constitutional Amendment to get rid of it (we have done this before as a country).  The problem is that the smaller states like the system, so this could be a problem getting a majority vote (3/4 votes of all states actually).  However, the system allows it, so why not?

Let’s review the fairness issue.  The fairness in the Electoral system is that EVERY state is considered for the Presidential Election, which really proves the US motto “Out of Many – One.”  Of course, one might argue that having a popular vote also proves that motto, since individuals will then vote for the president and, thereby, cut the boundaries that divide the states.  This whole argument comes down to whether an Electoral College is necessary in Modern America, given our ability to communicate worldwide in an instant, our research abilities, and our basic political system.  “After all,” you say, “this type of thing did not happen prior to our living history.”

I am here to tell you that this type of thing happened EXACTLY 140 years ago with the election of Rutherford B. Hayes (http://history1800s.about.com/od/presidentialcampaigns/a/electionof1876.htm).  This election, according to the cited source, was “intensely fought and had a controversial outcome”  –  Sound familiar?  The winner, Hayes, did not get the popular vote AND did not get the majority of electoral vote — but he still won!  The mechanics behind this is a great read (it seems summarized best in the reference above), but suffice it to say an “Electoral Commission” favored Hayes and he won the election.  However, again according to the resource above, his 4 year tenure (he wrote a letter after the Republican Convention that he would only serve one term) was plagued by his perceived illegitimacy, even to the point of calling him “Rutherfraud” B. Hayes.  Samuel Tilden, his opponent and winner of the popular vote, still felt as though he had won (according to the source).  He later fell ill and died, leaving part of his fortune to the New York Public Library.  A philanthropist to the very end.

This covers both 1 and 2 above.  The reason we have an Electoral College is that we are supporting the Constitution, and this has led to some interestingly unique elections, but we are still here to talk about it, referring to our America and progressing as a nation.

But the important story is that some are saying that the country will forever be divided and we will never heal.  I am here to tell you that during my life I have seen the country split because of Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, The Cold War, and Worldwide Terrorism.  I have seen the protests in this country on TV and in real life and it sometimes made me wonder if we would ever heal.  The injustices that erupted, and have been quelled through both good and bad Presidents have not soured our national pride.  We still cheer our USA teams, we are proud of our military (something that was completely different then when I first started in the military), and the country is coming to grips with a variety of economic and social issues.  I remember a phrase about “it takes a village” and I never agreed with that when it came to the US.  “It takes a nation.”    A nation of people who are comfortable enough to know that they can march in protest without fear of retribution; a nation of people that are not put down because of who they voted for in ANY election; a nation of people that respect each others opinions.  It is only then that we can heal this nation and move on.  We have done it before and we will do it again.

Finally, the idea that elections are fair is like saying the stock market is always down (or up).  The bottom line is that everything in politics turns around.  I mean if you look at Presidential elections back 200 years ago you see the election of 1800 when another election was in contest (http://history1800s.about.com/od/presidentialcampaigns/a/electionof1876.htm).  This one ultimately ended with Jefferson taking the Presidency even though he was declared an “Un-Christian Deist.”  However, more tragically was that the person who would support him in Congress, Alexander Hamilton, would later shoot and kill Aaron Burr (Thomas Jefferson’s Vice President) in a duel.

Still think the election is unfair?  Take a look at Harry Truman, who was basically told by the media that he would lose (sound familiar?).  The outcome was very different, with him winning and holding a headline from a paper that would “jump the gun.”  What happened?  Biased sampling leading to biased results (again, sound familiar?).  This biased sampling is summarized very well in this article: https://www.math.upenn.edu/~deturck/m170/wk4/lecture/case2.html.  The bottom line is this:  the bias of a human is something is both unavoidable in the type of sampling done for the Truman/Dewey contest.  If you place a human in the process of choosing who to survey, you are instituting a bias that is very similar to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.  Heisenberg’s theory contains the basic philosophy that when we attempt to observe, we actually influence, the event (http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/science-questions/quantum-suicide2.htm).  It is evident that humans were involved in the surveys of the election of 1948 and the current one.  The biases are there for the current one:  why would anyone state that they were going to vote for Trump, given the overall feelings about him?  That, in itself, biased the sampling.  The result is that he was elected, using the rules of the Electoral College to defeat his opponent.  The more we try to observe, the more we influence.

I know this has been a long article and I apologize.  I have been thinking about this for several months and wanted to finally get my feelings on paper.  The statistics, the data, the surveying, all of this are part of the overall look at this election, but it is people, history, and political uniqueness (or perceived uniqueness) that makes this interesting.

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