O’Malley talks to the entrepreneurs at 1776 about innovative approaches in his state


Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (Jae C. Hong/AP)

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley sat in a gray armchair at 1776 — a start-up incubator a few blocks from the White House that has become a must-stop for politicians — and described his state as an entrepreneurial utopia in the making.

The Democrat, who is contemplating a 2016 White House run, said Maryland openly shares data, goals and deadlines that leaders elsewhere keep hidden. He talked about gains in education, public safety and jobs, plus progressive legislation like allowing same-sex marriage and increasing the minimum wage that, he said, has made Maryland more inclusive and poised for change.

“We are not ideologues — we are entrepreneurs,” O’Malley, 51, said during a “fireside chat” to a mostly younger audience Tuesday night. “The question that we ask about any operational challenge or policy question isn’t, ‘Does it move us left or right?’ but ‘Does it move us forward or hold us back?’”

The beer-sipping entrepreneurs had a question: What can they do to sell their ideas to Maryland, this place so open and ready for disruptive innovation?

“I think the best way to sell any new innovation or new idea as a vendor is to be able to point to a place where it’s already working in another government,” O’Malley said, prompting a snort from a bearded guy in a white blazer sitting near the front.

“I know that you are entrepreneurs and innovators and you pride yourselves on being the first to do something -- and, God bless you, that’s great,” he continued. “But oftentimes in government, anybody that’s in charge of an office or an agency, they get fired for doing something first, especially if it doesn’t work.”

O’Malley urged the innovators to first find a place to beta-test their idea — maybe at a hospital or large organization — to remove some of the risk. He also told them to contact his chief innovation officer, Michael Powell. “Blow up his e-mail,” O’Malley said with a laugh.

1776 started last year as a “global hub” for start-ups tackling problems that have long faced the government and regulated industries like education, energy, transportation and health care. Earlier this month, President Obama visited.

While some federal agencies and departments have experimented with sharing data and providing goals-and-results transparency, O’Malley said, more need to follow the example of progressive states like Maryland.

“I believe that we are on the threshold of a new era of American progress,” O’Malley said. “If only we would discard that old way of thinking that government decisions need to be held close, that the risk of embarrassment is greater than the benefit that comes from everybody knowing what everybody knows.”

He pointed to StateStat, a collection of hundreds of Maryland data sets tracking things like addresses of reported sewer overflows and the number of inmates entering and leaving corrections facilities. O’Malley also highlighted an online dashboard showing his progress on 16 strategic goals, only half of which are fully on track.

He did not discuss the areas where his administration has been accused of not always being transparent, accountable and open — most recently in regards to the state’s online health insurance marketplace, a major technology project that crashed on its first day.

The administration has declined several requests from reporters to make public internal e-mails and other documents related to the building of the first system, including status reports generated by hired consultants. The decision to rebuild the system was made by cabinet members behind closed doors without the input of key legislators. There has been no special investigation by the state into what went wrong, although a regularly scheduled audit is underway. The results of a federal inquiry are not expected to be released until after the new system launches in November.

The last question of the evening was a common one: What’s next for the governor?

“I love my country,” O’Malley said. “I want to do the most that I can to help our country move forward, and so I’m seriously considering running for president in 2016.”

But first, O’Malley said, he is focused on getting more Democrats elected this November.

“And then I will make a decision on what’s next,” O’Malley said. “Later on. But not tonight.”

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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