Spread the word: Government plays a key role in American innovation
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Spread the word: Government plays a key role in American innovation

October 11, 2018 | Updated on December 10, 2020

Michael Lewis and Jeff Bezos promote public service

Author Michael Lewis’ latest book, “The Fifth Risk,” was released last Tuesday, October 2, the same day as the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals awards gala, which he attended. Both the book and the Sammies gala honoring outstanding public servants illustrate two points: First, the government plays an important role in improving our society. And second, not enough people know it.

“If you are going to identify where people are being radically misvalued, it’s in the public sector,” Lewis said on Face the Nation.

“The Fifth Risk” is, in part, a lesson on the danger of ignorance: By misunderstanding government, we threaten its ability to improve our country. By underappreciating the work of federal employees, we make it more difficult for them to make a difference.

That’s why it’s so important to talk about government and share its success stories. At the Sammies gala, Lewis joined Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos on stage for a fireside chat about the power of service.

Watch some highlights from their conversation.

Bezos explains how he grew up believing that government was a hub of innovation. He had a close relationship with his grandfather, Lawrence “Pop” Gise, a career public servant, who worked on space technology and missile defense systems. Bezos also said the Apollo program was inspirational, helping to fuel his desire and passion to make a difference in space exploration.

Hearing the stories of the Sammies 2018 winners, Bezos was inspired by how they were driven by mission. Innovation, he explains, requires that spark of passion rather than a profit motive. “The people I saw up on stage tonight are all missionaries. You can have a job, a career, or a calling, and you want the calling.”

Bezos and Lewis discuss how to get young people to reengage with government service. He worries that it takes too long for agencies to make decisions, causing younger employees to choose smaller start-up companies where decisions are made more quickly.  

 “If the leadership focuses on increasing the decision-making velocity of the organization, everybody will be happier and you’ll get younger people.”

Bezos discusses how his vision for Blue Origin, his aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company, is like the mission of government agencies: He wants to establish the infrastructure for space exploration that future entrepreneurs can use to further their own business ventures. Blue Origin is among the six companies NASA has selected for developing 10 “tipping point” technologies that have the potential to significantly benefit the commercial space economy and future NASA missions, including lunar landing vehicle and deep space rocket engine technologies.

Two actions you can take

  1. Share the stories 
    Help us publicize the great work of this year’s Sammies winners. Share the stories with families, friends and colleagues and use #Sammies2018. 
  2. Nominate deserving federal employees 
    Help us find other outstanding federal employees to celebrate next year. Nominations for the 2019 Service to America Medals are open now through January 18.