By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
A silo can be a great thing if you are a farmer. Back in the day, silos were tall, slender storage buildings used to hold grain, usually for the winter. It is how you keep your livestock fed. Many farms still have the iconic, cylindrical towers, usually next to a barn. A full silo meant that the livestock had food for the winter. It meant that grain would not waste away in the fields or be carried away by other animals or people. No one or thing could get at the grain and if someone were in need, they would have to come ask you for it.
The term “silo” is also used for the underground launching pad and housing for missiles. A missile silo contains powerful rockets with potentially devastatingly destructive explosives for a payload. These silos are hidden so that their destructive power cannot be tampered with and will be ready to defend the owner or offend his enemy. In this case, silos are used to protect great power from getting into the wrong hands and to contain the power of a missile until the owner is ready to release it.
Which brings us to a third meaning of “silo”. Silo may also mean to “isolate (one’s system, process, department, etc.) from others”. A department, program, or even an individual may create a silo for their expertise, resources. and information. In some cases, silos may be necessary in order to protect individuals from harm. One example is the data that resides in the enrollment office about our Cherokee families. Staff and committee must maintain a barrier to certain information to protect the privacy of our people. Our hospital and health care professionals must secure data to ensure the privacy of patients under their care. The tribal human resources department must have barriers to certain employee information to protect workers and operate within the law. In these cases, silos may be a help.
There are also areas where silo behavior is a hinderance to the betterment of the people. For example, if programs and leadership within those programs are reluctant or not cooperative with other programs when a project or initiative demands it, processes grind to a halt and needed services are delayed or not delivered at all.
For decades, our government has struggled with the conflict of being a massive business entity and a sovereign municipal government. Business and government are very distinctly different in purpose and operation, but it is irresistible for leaders to attempt to bring the efficiencies inherent in successful business into the world of municipal government. For example, managers in the business world are told to “ensure optimal return on investment”. The goal is to earn more than it takes to run the business, to realize profit.
Government managers, on the other hand, are given budgets. Budgets are based on the income of the municipality from taxes, levies, grants, and, in our case, gaming revenue. Each year, budgets are analyzed for use. If more is needed for a program, a chain of requests and authorizations are processed to either increase the budget or eliminate the need for the funding. Similarly, if money in a line item for a process in a program goes unspent in an annual budget, then the governmental leadership may assume that the money is not needed and is typically removes it from the next year’s budget. Once the needs of a government program are assessed and the budget established, the goal of a government manager is to “expend the budget to 0”. He must not exceed the budget for each line item, but he also must not leave any money in line item or the leadership may write those dollars out of his next budget as unneeded.
Since program managers must ensure the resources that they receive are expended to the maximum benefit of the community they serve, they tend to be very protective of those resources, sometimes to the extreme of “siloing” manpower, supplies, and equipment so that they have complete control over what goes on with their portion of a particular project.
So far, so good. It is a good thing for managers to want to ensure that funds that they are responsible for are used effectively and efficiently. And, in some cases, the use of silos is perfectly acceptable and necessary. But, as we have seen in the war on drugs, programs and entities putting information and resources into silos can have a stifling effect on the efforts. On any project, it is critical that entities work together for the outcome they are all trying to achieve. In the latest governmental town hall meeting hosted by the Executive Office, Tribal entities were present, along with law enforcement agencies from surrounding counties. In this case, our tribal government saw the need to reach out to other entities. They also saw the need to bring division and program leaders together to network solutions for this incredibly challenging issue.
Silo behavior can be so engrained in a person that they don’t even know it when they exhibit it. Have you ever asked a person from a program apart from your own for information to complete an assignment and, instead of providing it, they told you that they would just take care of the assignment for you rather than show you a process or provide information to you? Or, have you ever been told by a department that a process could not be completed because the one person in that department who knows how to complete the process (or has the authority to do so) is out of the office or otherwise unavailable?
Like the life-giving grain and life altering missile, information has incredible power. And while containing it is important, making sure that we share knowledge within our government and community. For the most part, silos are a relic of the past. We have a difficult time giving them up. Many are standing today as monuments, not functional. In the interest of bettering our community, let’s put those institutional silos away, learn to trust each other, and work together for a betterment of our community.