The fifth risk and coronavirus, a conversation with Michael Lewis

March 30, 2020

Author Michael Lewis shares insights on the coronavirus pandemic and stories from “The Fifth Risk.” Lewis discusses the critical role federal employees play in managing the crisis, and his advice for presidential transition teams. Lewis also outlines the importance of effective government management, both in times of crisis and times of normalcy, and why we need to rethink what we’re told about the career officials running our federal government. 

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Read the highlights:

Dave: “When you were writing about government workers, it seems like a boring subject to write about – people that work in the government. There are stereotypes about them as bureaucrats and slow-moving. What were your observations when you met people that were longtime career federal officials?”  

Michael: “They were extraordinarily mission-driven, extraordinarily focused, passionate about the things they cared about. They were all moving and important characters, and easy to make a swing on the page because they cared so much about something that mattered so much, to which much of the country was completely indifferent or oblivious. I thought of them as our greatest patriots. It was as if you had a military that was off fighting and dying in a war without anybody acknowledging it.”


Dave: “Having written a whole book about transition, you’ve spent a large chunk of time on it. What advice would you have for the Biden or Sanders team on what they should be doing and how seriously they should take a transition planning effort?”  

Michael: “It should be the number one priority, especially given what we’re living with now and what crisis might emerge between now and then… The biggest thing you’re being handed right now is this giant toolbox. A lot of the tools are broken, some of the tools are missing. But it’s all you’ve got. You can fill that toolbox up pretty quickly if you’re ready to go on day one, so the advice I would give them makes it a huge priority. No partisan litmus tests, the filter is not are you Democrat or Republican. The filter is, do you know what you’re talking about? Do you understand the subject? Do you have management ability?”  


Lewis emphasized the importance of federal employees and the expertise they bring to their jobs.  

“If you think you know what a federal government worker is, maybe you think again. When you actually meet the people doing the jobs, you think, ‘Thank God they’re there.’”