Former speaker of the House headlines Day 1 of National Conservative Student Conference at GW.
By James Irwin
Newt Gingrich stepped to the podium, thanked the crowd and outlined the topics of his speech, then paused for a second.
“Let me start with right here in the United States,” the 71-year-old former speaker of the House said. “I actually think your generation has an opportunity to be the most creative generation in rethinking government since the founding fathers.”
Mr. Gingrich, speaking Tuesday morning to a crowd of about 200 at the George Washington University, kicked off the 36th annual National Conservative Student Conference with a speech focused on using technology to advance, simplify and shrink what he called “the centralized bureaucratic model” of government.
“That model has in many ways reached the point of being unsustainable,” he said. “It normally takes less than 11 seconds [to process an ATM transaction]. By contrast, it takes 177 days to move records from the Defense Department to Veterans Affairs. You are living in a world of 11 seconds, and the government bureaucracy is in a world of 177 days.”
Smartphones, Mr. Gingrich said, have revolutionized the way and accelerated the rate at which the world processes information, providing an opportunity to redefine the way a society operates.
“The first great challenge is that nobody has developed a theoretical model of how you organize humans in the age of the smartphone,” he said. “We don’t have a model for it. It’s that new, that different and that big.”
In remarks about U.S. foreign affairs, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) recalled some of the straightforward techniques favored by former President Ronald Reagan. "He was asked what his strategy was on the Cold War, and he said 'It's very, very simple: we win, they lose.'"
The weeklong conference, which continues through Friday and is hosted by the Young America’s Foundation, features a star-studded lineup of conservative leaders, including U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), author and radio host Herman Cain, former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
Mr. Gingrich, who held the speakership from 1995 to 1999, offered his idea for the first government area in need of an IT improvement: the VA, which has been mired in scandal since reports surfaced in April of veterans dying while waiting for care.
“What if every veteran had a smartphone and a series of VA apps where they registered to get an appointment? If the hospital doesn’t respond within a few weeks, they can send a direct message to the regional center that they aren’t getting service,” Mr. Gingrich said. “And nobody can delete it because it’s on their phone. You can compress bureaucracy.”
Making government more efficient, people-friendly and accessible was a theme that continued throughout the day and resonated with Tory McClintock, a rising sophomore in GW’s School of Business. Ms. McClintock is studying business administration, public policy and economics, and sees a future in which government and business, long believed to be at odds, coexist.
“It’s interesting because they can go hand-in-hand,” she said. “The School of Business has been emphasizing the idea of social entrepreneurship, which is how business leaders can create ideas, like a nonprofit organization, that serves a purpose for the greater community. Government can help give a starting entrepreneur a push or invest in that effort.”
Ms. McClintock, a member of the GW chapter of the Young America’s Foundation, came back into town from the Philadelphia area for the conference and attended speeches given by Mr. Gingrich and Sen. Cruz, who spoke for 30 minutes Tuesday afternoon on domestic and foreign affairs and fielded questions from the crowd.
“I really think it’s an asset for the conference, having it at George Washington, because Ted Cruz can come right down from the Hill,” Ms. McClintock said. “I think GW being so accommodating really shows how it promotes a diversity of thought and opinion on the campus.”