Jim Hartung

For over 80 years, systems engineering has helped America
lead in science, technology, industry, and business.

Now, systems engineering can help us address our most difficult
social, economic, envronmental, and political problems.

Welcome to My Website!

Hi. I'm Jim Hartung.

America’s political system is broken. The Covid-19 pandemic and the George Floyd killing have exposed many problems: weaknesses in our healthcare system, the consequences of racial injustice, the pain and suffering caused by economic inequality, the divisive and disabling effect of hyper-partisan politics, and the risk of doing too little to address climate change and prevent nuclear war.

These problems are not new or unique. They are the tip of an immense iceberg of problems that have been festering and growing for many years.
 We need deep, structural change to eliminate the root causes of these problems.

During the past three years, I have developed a plan to improve America’s political system and address our most urgent problems using systems engineering, the process engineers use to develop complex products such as aircraft and spacecraft. This website and the video, booklet, and book shown above describe my plan.

While developing my plan, I discovered a critical flaw in how Congress is organized. I believe Congress can easily fix this flaw, transform itself into a much more effective organization using systems engineering, and expeditiously address America’s most urgent problems.

I have used systems engineering (SE) for nearly 40 years while working for Boeing, United Technologies, and Rockwell International. My plan is based on this experience, and especially my experience using SE on highly political programs such as the International Space Station.

My Plan

Partisan politics is dividing America and preventing us from achieving our potential. Lawmakers need a process to bridge the partisan divide and develop practical, nonpartisan solutions for our most difficult problems.

The figure on the right shows what I believe are America's most serious problems. For decades, lawmakers have been unable to fix these problems because of ideological differences. They need a process to help them overcome partisan politics and work together for the common good.

These problems are similar in many ways to problems I encountered during my engineering career. Therefore, shortly after Congress enacted the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in late 2017, I decided to try using systems engineering (SE) to develop a better tax system. I had two goals:
  • Develop a comprehensive, nonpartisan tax reform proposal using the SE process
  • Determine if SE can be used to address other societal problems in addition to tax reform
The SE process worked very well. Using SE, I was able to develop a tax reform proposal that:
  • Fixes all significant issues with the current tax code
  • Satisfies the most important objectives of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents
  • Addresses many difficult social, economic, and political problems beyond tax reform

The SE process led me to develop a tax reform proposal that addresses four of the problems shown in the above figure: the tax system, healthcare, economic inequality, and climate change. The ease with which these solutions emerged from the SE process has convinced me that SE is a good process for addressing societal and personal problems as well as engineering problems. As a result, I am now on a mission to expand the use of SE beyond engineering, to the following areas:
  • Congress (and lawmakers and policymakers at all levels of government) should use SE to address societal problems
  • Anyone can all use SE to address personal problems, make better decisions, develop healthier relationships, and work more effectively as part of a team 
  • Educators should teach the SE process because it makes us better citizens and prepares us to live a happier and more fulfilling life

The journey to achieve this mission is long, but even the longest journey begins with a single step. More importantly, I believe that taking just a few small steps along this journey can make America a much better country.

Systems Engineering

Systems engineering (SE) is the process engineers use to develop complex products and systems. It has been used sucessfully for over 80 years. It is an inherently nonpartisan process because it:
  • Considers the needs of all stakeholders and uses facts and data to optimize a product or system
  • Seeks to balance opposing interests, conflicting objectives, and many constraints

The figure on the right shows the SE process, simplified and adapted to address societal problems. Until now, SE has been used primarily to optimize physical products and systems. However, my experience suggests that it can also be used to optimize social, economic, and political systems.

One of the key ideas of systems engineering is that the best solution to problems is generally a “systems solution” that addresses all key root causes. So, for example, even though building shelters for homeless people and banning choke holds by police are necessary steps, they do not address the root causes of these problems. Using systems engineering, one would develop a “systems solution” that addresses the root causes as well as the symptoms. Viewed in this way, the Covid-19 pandemic and the George Floyd killing have exposed many problems which can only be solved with an integrated “systems solution” that addresses the root causes of these problems.

have developed many tools to assist with the SE of complex products and systems. However, no special expertise is required to use SE to address societal (or personal) problems. It is really just common sense. Nevertheless, I have developed this website and the video, booklet, and book shown above (and explained below) to show how anyone can use the SE process.

Congress Should Lead

The figure on the right shows Congress' current decisionmaking process. This process has four major problems:
  • No organization is responsible for developing nonpartisan proposals
  • There is no good process for resolving conflicts
  • Each problem is addressed separately
  • There is no process for continuous improvement
All of these problems can be remedied if Congress takes these two actions:
  • Establish a new organization to develop nonpartisan solutions for societal problems, using the SE process.
  • Direct this new organization to develop and propose an "integrated" set of solutions for America's most serious problems.
This new organization should be patterned after the (nonpartisan) Congressional Budget Office and the SE organizations in businesses that develop complex products and systems. This new organization will not make policy. Its proposals will only be the starting point for Congressional debate and discussion. Congress and the president are the gatekeepers who decide when the organization’s proposals are good enough to be implemented.

This new organization’s proposed solutions should be updated at least annually until Congress and the president enact a solution, and thereafter to continuously improve the solution. Repeating the process annually will make Congressional discussion of America’s top issues a routine process and promote rational, fact-based, and data-driven discussion of alternatives. Once discussion becomes routine, compromise will be possible and practical, nonpartisan solutions can be enacted.

If Congress leads in using the SE process, state and local governments and international organizations can follow their example. This will bridge the partisan divide and fix our broken political system at all levels of government.

The Video: Rational Politics

The video, Rational Politics, summarizes my plan to fix America's broken political system and address our most serious problems. This short (7-minute) video:

  • Describes the SE process and how it can be used to address societal problems
  • Explains how Congress and other legislative bodies can implement the SE process
  • Summarizes the tax reform proposal I developed using the SE process
  • Describes how SE can bridge the partisan divide and fix our broken political system

You can watch this video by clicking here or on its image (above, left).

The Free Booklet: Beyond Partisan Politics

The booklet, Beyond Partisan Politics, describes my plan in more detail. In addition to covering all the topics addressed in the video, this short (12-page) booklet also:
  • Explains how the proposed tax reform addresses other societal problems
  • Discusses why educators should teach the SE process
  • Describes how anyone can use SE to help them achieve their goals

You can download this booklet for free by clicking here or on its image (above, center).
The Book: Rational Tax Reform

The book, Rational Tax Reform, describes my plan in detail, using tax reform as an example. Following are comments from two reviewers:

Rational Tax Reform is clear and lucid. It succeeds beautifully in demonstrating how rationalizing one part of the system (the tax system) can be the key to addressing many other vexing problems such as health care, social inequality, and climate change. I see lots of opportunities to deploy the same SE approach to other social systems.” — Dr. Saif Benjaafar, Distinguished McKnight Professor and Head, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Minnesota College of Engineering and Science

“I am seriously impressed with this book and the proposed tax reform. I like the practical, nonpartisan SE approach to tax writing. I strongly agree with the tax reform proposal except for a few small differences. Now let’s get these ideas to tax writers, federal and state.” — T. R. Reid, New York Times bestselling author of A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System and The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care

Rational Tax Reform was written before the Covid-19 pandemic and the George Floyd killing, so it does not explicitly discuss these events. However, it does address many of the fundamental problems that have been exposed and aggravated by these tragic events. This illustrates the power of SE to anticipate and address serious problems even before they are illuminated by current events.

You can learn more about this book by clicking here or on its image (above, right).

You can purchase this book here:     Paperback      Ebook

The Path Forward

My vision is that SE will become the "go to" process for lawmakers and policymakers addressing social, economic, and political problems, just as it is now the "go to" process for engineers developing complex products and systems.

This may seem like an impossible dream. However, during my career, I have seen how SE can transform a large, complex, highly political program from near-failure to success in one to two years. So now, I am convinced that Congress can implement the needed organizational change in less than one year and transform itself into an effective organization in two to four years—simply by adopting the SE process.

Crises often create opportunities. My hope is that the coronavirus pandemic and the George Floyd killing will be a wake-up call for America; that these catastrophic events will spur us to make fundamental changes to improve our political system. SE is the process (and the change) we need to fix our broken political system and address our most serious problems.

Congress and the president should implement SE in 2021. This will make America a much better country and show other countries how we can (together) address the world's most difficult problems. Divided we will fail, but united, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

You can help by learning about the SE process, using the SE process, and spreading the word about the SE process.

Please contact me if you have questions, comments, or suggestions.