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Finally, the day came when the Vasa was completed and was to set sail on its maiden voyage. King Adolphus stood proudly, marveling at the wondrous creation standing before him in the harbor. The Vasa pulled away and fired a mighty shot from its imposing gun deck. But then, suddenly, the ship began to rock back and forth unstably. The crew ran from side to side to try to balance out the weight but could not prevent disaster. The overweight and imperfectly designed ship sank within minutes.
The moral of this 17th-century story applied to members of Congress? First, hire the best staff you can, provide them clear goals and then let them manage the day-to-day activities of the office. Second, you cannot continually add new priorities and new initiatives to your agenda without making conscious and difficult trade-offs. If you do, your boat won’t sail well or may even sink — regardless of your good intentions.
Bradford Fitch is president and CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and former editor of “Setting Course: A Congressional Management Guide.”