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Vision and Innovation by the People, for the People

Ivy Eckerman

Ivy Eckerman

President and CEO, Spire Communications

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As someone who’s worked with federal agencies for more than 15 years, I often find myself in conversations about government. Not politics, but government. What it does, whether it’s working, and what we, as Americans, are getting for our taxpayer dollars.

When I ask people how they would describe the U.S. federal government, responses tend to be – ahem – less than positive. They use words and phrases like bureaucratic, inefficient, unproductive, lack of vision, lack of initiative, and even moribund (yikes).

Certainly, opinions like these aren’t completely without merit. The federal government is a massive collection of agencies, departments, and bureaus – large and small, integrated and isolated, well-known and obscure. Its offices are spread across the United States, and its presence extends to virtually every country and territory in the world.

I’ll grant that the classic image of the dutiful civil servant methodically doing their gray work pales in comparison to a Thomas Edison or Bill Gates delivering starburst eureka moments of inspiration.

The evidence for federal innovation is everywhere

But consider a different perspective – one equally supported by evidence. And one that comes much closer to my experience supporting communications for more than a dozen agencies since founding Spire.

If we look for it, there’s plenty of justification for taking a view of the federal government as visionary, forward-thinking, groundbreaking, imaginative, inventive, productive, and bold.

Sure, the private sector has stories that are so compelling, they’ve coalesced into modern myth: The garage-based genius toiling for thousands of hours and producing spectacularly novel technologies. Hewlett and Packard, Jobs and Wozniak, Bezos, Page and Brin – that kind of high-powered entrepreneur spirit absolutely deserves generous praise.

But throughout our nation’s history, the federal government has shown itself to be equally nimble and creative. In fact, its various agencies can be credited with some of the most innovative, groundbreaking, and visionary advances in technology, science, engineering, and medicine.

Pushing this point further, I would argue that government work can actually be pretty sexy.

Not convinced? How about a few famous examples:

And these are only the marquee achievements.

Shaping our lives and our future

Most Americans don’t realize it, but every day federal agencies, departments, and programs pursue fundamental R&D and applied engineering across incredibly diverse disciplines – oceanography, aviation, public health, and so many more. The work is led by brilliant and dedicated individuals whose ideas and inventions are shaping the future of our nation and our world.

Looking beyond its direct efforts, the federal government is without compare the greatest source of strategic funding for private-sector innovation – particularly for programs with a longer or less obvious path to commercial value.

In fact, if you trace the technologies that enabled many a garage genius to reach mythic status back to their R&D origins, you’ll find that those private-sector visionaries got a leg up from Uncle Sam. Because unlike most venture capitalists, who typically seek quick ROI, our government can bet long.

Why I love what we do

For me and for the Spire team, the opportunity to promote government-led innovation is both an honor and a thrill. Over the years, I’ve had the chance to help communicate some truly astonishing things, including

  • DARPA’s LUKE arm, a prosthetic so sensitive that the wearer can pick up an egg without breaking it
  • A motorcycle hovercraft developed by the Army Research Lab and designed to safeguard soldiers from IEDs
  • NIH’s All of Us Research Program, which is gathering DNA from a million people to help advance precision medicine
  • 100 Year Starship, a joint effort of NASA and DARPA that aims to make interstellar human travel a reality

I could list many more examples from these clients and others, but these accomplishments showcase government innovation at its best.

Each started with an audacious, often open-ended question. Each was driven by scientists and/or engineers working for or on behalf of the American taxpayer. And each resulted or will result in immense value – saving lives and elevating the quality of life for people around the world (and eventually even beyond our solar system).

Clearly, our federal government has been and continues to be a potent force of innovation, vision, and imagination.

I take great pride in the work my team does to spread the word about these feats of ingenuity. Our clients show up every day to chase the next breakthrough, and my team shows up to make sure more Americans know about them.

These are projects and programs we believe in deeply. We admire their daring and their impact. We appreciate that the work is funded by the people and for the people.

We love it because, frankly, it’s just cool.

And when talk turns to what the federal government does in science, technology, and healthcare, that’s the first word I think of.

We communicate federal government innovations every day