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There are no gold toilets—What Trump and his CEO appointees will learn about government

Golden Toilet
Sergii Kharchenko | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Twelve years ago I went to work as a branch chief for the Arizona Game & Fish Department. In Arizona, like in most states, wildlife conservation is wholly funded by people who hunt and fish. And nationwide, hunting and fishing has been in decline for decades.

Though we were a government agency, we were funded like a business. We received no money from the state budget—our customers funded the entire operation. The Department engaged in marketing and educational efforts to try and create more hunters and anglers, but we also needed to raise our license fees.

So, as a government agency, we did what we needed to do to raise our prices:

We pushed for years to get legislation passed that would allow the Department to increase fees. Once the legislation passed, we entered the rule making process—an arcane and overlooked part of lawmaking that happens at the state and federal level. During rule making (the part of the process I managed), we traveled to something like nine different cities in Arizona to get public input.

(Side note: On one of these trips I learned the hard way that there are no bathrooms on a six-passenger, government owned plane—let alone the gold plated toilets the Trump family is used to.)

After traveling to these nine cities and gathering public input, we put together a final rule making package, which was then approved by the gubernatorially appointed Game & Fish Commission, which was made final when it was approved by a special council in the Governor's office that approved rules for all agencies.

We needed to increase our prices. Our customers supported that price increase. To raise those prices we had to engage in a years-long process, making compromises the entire way.

That's just how government works—except, in this case we were deciding how much the residents of one state should have to pay to shoot and eat squirrels (I learned when I joined the Department that squirrel hunting is a real thing). We weren't trying to repeal the 2,700 pages of Obamacare.

In the public sector, you can't pull a Tim Cook and simply say, "Cut the cord off those ear buds, make them easier to lose, and charge people $200 for it."

The public sector is designed to move slowly, and it's an environment former private sector candidates and appointees have struggled with.

"Herbert Hoover learned being president isn't the same thing as being boss, and he would spend the rest of his life trying to reclaim his reputation."

Herbert Hoover was considered a business genius before his election in 1928. Prior to entering public service, he'd built a mining empire and organized food shipments to a starving Europe after World War I. Yet Hoover had a difficult relationship with Congress, and that poor relationship slowed and weakened his response to the Great Depression.

Herbert Hoover learned being president isn't the same thing as being boss, and he would spend the rest of his life trying to reclaim his reputation.

Hoover isn't the only businessperson ruined by the challenges of public service.

H.R. Haldeman, Richard Nixon's chief of staff, also learned the hard way that government isn't like business. Haldeman spent his entire career in advertising before taking the top staff position after Nixon's election in 1968. Advertising is a business based on the art of deception, and 20 years of perfecting that art was good training for the Nixon White House—which, in turn, was good training for prison.

Due to his role in Watergate, Haldeman would later serve 18 months of an eight-year sentence for conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Obviously, there are good reasons to want talented people from the private sector to serve in public life. But there is very little in the private sector that prepares someone for public sector service. And that's not because government is irreparably broken.

The public hearings, long comment periods, and general delays are part of lawmaking for a reason. And as frustrating as Donald Trump and his cabinet of CEOs might find that, during their careers they benefited from slow moving government.

How successful would Rex Tillerson have been at Exxon if the legislative and regulatory environment were unpredictable and immediately responsive to the next appointee?

No matter what we hear on a campaign trail, government can't be run like a business—because it isn't a business. The public sector can always be more innovative and accountable, but selling Trump steaks to the few people who bought Trump steaks is different than being President, and forging partnerships with Russian oil companies is different than representing America's interests as Secretary of State.

Trump and his appointees will learn that running the people's business is different than running your own business.

Hopefully they won't have to learn the hard way, like Herbert Hoover and H.R. Haldeman did.

Because when that happens, we all suffer.

Commentary by Dustin McKissen, the founder and CEO of McKissen + Company, a strategy, marketing, and public relations firm based in St. Charles, Missouri. He was named one of LinkedIn's "Top Voices" in 2015 and 2016, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Organizational and Industrial Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @DMcKissen.

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