Danny De Gracia: You Don't Need To Be A Rocket Scientist To Make Government Better - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister.

Danny holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minor in Public Administration from UT San Antonio, 2001; a Master of Arts in  Political Science (concentration International Organizations) and minor in Humanities from Texas State University, 2002.

He received his Doctor of Theology from Andersonville Theological Seminary in 2013 and Doctor of Ministry in 2014.

Danny received his Ordination from United Fellowship of Christ Ministries International, (Non-Denominational Christian), in 2002.

Here are actions that can be taken today to have more efficient government by the end of the week.

There’s a hilarious episode of “Star Trek” where an anti-social and incompetent lieutenant gets possessed by an alien consciousness that transforms him into an overnight genius. The crew member then applies his new mental powers to improve the effectiveness of the Starship Enterprise by over 300%, just by making a few quick changes to the computer that no one else thought to make.

Among Trekkies, that episode remains a classic “WTF moment” in the series that has viewers to this day asking questions on Reddit like, “If it was that easy to make the Enterprise more powerful, how come Starfleet didn’t just do that to all their ships after that?” 

You might be surprised to know that in real life, even the smallest changes in method, skill or focus can have a dynamic effect on a system. When reform-minded people look at our local government, we see numerous opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

And just like the fictional Starship Enterprise, if people in government took initiative to do the right thing, we would immediately see a positive difference here in Hawaii. Here’s a few places to start.


What is the biggest problem in our local government? Is it corruption? Structural violence? How about a lack of a “master plan” – the favorite phrase of every local politician – to guide the direction of Hawaii? Nope.

If you ask me, the biggest problem is our government can’t seem to hire people

There is no excuse for there to ever be vacancies in any government. Why? Because the government is supposed to get things done, and when there are no people in government, there is no governance.

When government is short staffed, as is the widespread case with so many offices in our city and state government, taxpayers lose out because that means less services are provided, or longer delays are experienced to do the same service.

In some instances, this can also mean precious federal funding never reaches local hands, because no one has been hired to spend it, or not enough people are around to do what it was intended to fund.

Why is this happening? Well, there’s several reasons. In some instances, it may simply be that the position description for these vacancies hasn’t changed with evolving needs. If the PD is written incorrectly or in an antiquated way, no amount of recruiting can get you the right applicants until you change it. This may take time and paperwork, but if it needs to be changed, the sooner you get started, the faster you can get that position filled. 

Another, more annoying reason could be that agencies and departments interviewing job candidates have a Goldilocks mindset where they only want perfect hires and reject everyone else. If you are NASA and your agency mandate is building rockets with 5.6 million complex parts, then please feel free to hire this way, but if you’re the Hawaii State Judiciary and you need more data entry workers to scan barcoded yellow ticket paper, you’re going about hiring all wrong.

This is not Harvard where we need applicants to write poetic letters of intent who were in a gazillion high school honor societies and have 4.0 GPAs. Can they read, write, understand basic instructions and obey the law? Good! Now hire them and stop understaffing offices. 

If you are a hiring authority and you have multiple vacancies in your department, by the end of this week you have no excuse not to have interviewed candidates and started the paperwork for hiring someone. Get it done. We will be shocked how much better Honolulu government works when Honolulu government hires.

Data is useful, but it can also be an excuse for delaying taking decisive action. (Wikimedia Commons)

Obsession With ‘Data’

During the Cold War, Soviet citizens used the acronym “IBD” – Imitatsiya Burnoy Deyatel’nosti – to describe how workers pretended to do something very important whenever a senior party official was touring their job site. Loosely translated as “imitation of restless activity,” the idea behind IBD was instead of doing something meaningful, one just needed to look busy.

In Honolulu, the only phrase I hear in 2023 more than “let’s raise taxes” is “we need more data.” I will be the first person to tell you that knowledge is power, but in Hawaii government, “data” is our local version of IBD. When someone says “we need more data on …” (you fill in the blank: Invasive species; housing; test scores; tourism and so on) what they secretly mean is “let’s do a technical study to justify not doing what we’re supposed to do, but let’s still ask the Legislature for our full funding, anyway.”

Yes, the hallmark of all junky governments is solving problems with numbered footnotes but not any tangible intervention. “Such-and-such is not a problem, because we have determined there is no (shortage/community viral spread/design flaws etc) that the public should be concerned about.”

You don’t need data, you just need to get started. Real world activity produces data all on its own. Make mistakes and adjust course. Experiment and fail, but use your failure to improve.

Bean counting should never substitute heavy lifting when it comes to providing services, resources, and government to Hawaii residents. Want to immediately make residents feel like their government has improved? Start doing something today. Take action! People will notice.


This one is going to really upset you, but you need to hear it: Our local government is loaded with people who are very smart, but very cowardly. When it comes to telling elected or appointed leaders, “your publicity stunt using this agency is inappropriate,” “this proposal is unethical,” or “you wouldn’t want to be treated this way yourself,” the smart people would rather keep their heads down because on a plantation, the nail that sticks out gets pounded down.

How do we know this is happening? Because there is no way that a state with a motto like “the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness” could be so strewn with trash, so rife with corruption, so poorly managed, and perpetually in trouble unless “pono” people were silent all the time.

In high school civics class, seniors are taught that the purpose of a government bureaucracy is to provide vital information to policymakers through a feedback loop that occurs between policy implementation and policy outcomes. If no one is giving negative feedback – that is, if everyone is spineless and cowering in fear of the mayor, in fear of the governor, in fear of the senate, in fear of the city council – then everyone is giving tacit reinforcement to keep doing things the wrong way.

“Danny, I don’t want to get fired for speaking out!” Really? The only thing the state does worse than hiring good people is firing bad people, so I think you’re safe.

What would you say if I told you that this week, if every single person in local government did something different on Monday morning and made it a point to make small improvements, we could have a totally improved city and state by Friday afternoon?

Yes, just a few quick changes could make government better and more useful to the taxpayers and residents of this great state. It’s not science fiction, it’s what high performing people do every day.

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister.

Danny holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and minor in Public Administration from UT San Antonio, 2001; a Master of Arts in  Political Science (concentration International Organizations) and minor in Humanities from Texas State University, 2002.

He received his Doctor of Theology from Andersonville Theological Seminary in 2013 and Doctor of Ministry in 2014.

Danny received his Ordination from United Fellowship of Christ Ministries International, (Non-Denominational Christian), in 2002.

Latest Comments (0)

In regards to hiring, IMO less can be more if tech upgrades are implemented. Local government is decades behind in modernizing systems. An example is traffic signal management. Rather than have a room full of idiots watching cameras in a room, where they can do nothing to alter timing, having a computer system that actually does something with data and makes changes instantly, would improve government response. In addition, you wouldn't need to pay 200 people and their retirement plans.Spineless is definitely systemic government problem. The old; don't work too hard because you will make the rest of look bad, syndrome. Performance is not rewarded its frowned upon and entrenched, tenured, supervisors, definitely do not want younger doers to make them look bad, or have to work harder. Government by nature is status quo work, which is why the best and brightest refrain from working within it. If you want challenge, feel the need to excel and be rewarded based on your performance, not union negotiations, you definitely don't want to work in local government. I don't see this changing ever, mostly because of the union mentality.

wailani1961 · 3 months ago

Everybody has an opinion on education until you work in a school. Same as government. The complexities grow as you get closer to the truth. Each issue or problem is unique, as well as its solution.

nalo_dude · 3 months ago

One budget issue got overlooked here: the "cost savings" of empty positions are usually applied to other, underfunded needs (eg. equipment, supplies) and mandates (eg. training). Failure to properly fund an agency's operations, while holding their managers accountable for results, doesn't usually bode well. It should be the role of the appropriators to deal with that correctly, and help civil servants be productive, not put them on the defensive. Gov't is not a free market where you're allowed (albeit with costs) to fail, pick product lines to drop, or choose your customers. Once the upper managers are set up to fail, human nature kicks in. Remember the saying "you don't have to run faster than the bear, just faster than the slowest member of your team" ? It applies here too: why bring aboard and nurture the best & brightest, when you'd do better to hire slow, potential scapegoats ? Or not hire, and keep some semblance of honesty.

Kamanulai · 3 months ago

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