The creation of DHS and ODNI: cautionary tales

The creation of the Homeland Security Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, although generally an overall positive step toward bolstering domestic counterterrorism efforts in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, presented several management challenges that make a good cautionary tale for the federal government, according to a report released Aug. 29 by the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Titled Securing the Future: Lessons from 9/11,” the report highlights the challenges surrounding the reorganization of the DHS "super structure,” which consolidated 22 agencies and 180,000 employees into one organization. ODNI, meanwhile, was birthed to oversee and help coordinate the work of 16 intelligence agencies.

Among the key lessons that the experience yielded:

  • Reorganized agencies need strong leadership to articulate the mission. The formation of DHS followed the classic federal reorganization model of merging existing agencies into a new Cabinet department. The creation of ODNI gave its leader oversight but not explicit authority over the agencies in the intelligence community. “Neither approach resulted in the kind of integration that had been envisioned by supporters of these reorganizations,” the report states. "So no matter what model is chosen, reorganization requires something more —- strong leadership to articulate the mission and the reasons for change, guide the transformation, and meld together disparate entities and management approaches."
  • A clear mission and a solid organizational structure are not enough. It is the “soft stuff”— vision, values and culture — that must be integrated into the organization for it to succeed. Leaders must therefore communicate the culture and values of the new organization, while being conscientious of the legacy cultures, histories and traditions of the merged units, the report states.
  • Strong management is critical to a well-run organization. Legacy processes and systems have to be re-engineered, “not just for the sake of greater efficiency, but specifically in furtherance of the new order,” the report states. That effort means the leaders of a new or reorganized department must put greater emphasis on the core management functions — procurement, IT, human resources and financial operations — to create an integrated, enterprisewide approach.
  • The new government entity also relies on external partnerships. It “does not exist in a vacuum, but must operate within a super system of sister departments, White House councils and czars, and congressional oversight committees,” according to the report. These actors could have a significant impact on those who are setting up the new organization and running it.

Whether leaders of a new agency can change or influence the political dynamic, “those who create and run these new government entities must be aware of the super system, how it may affect their plans and what it may take to succeed,” the report concluded.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

Reader comments

Fri, Sep 9, 2011 Mike Moxcey

The formation of DHS was in direct contradiction to Bush's assertion that we were in the middle of a war on terror. DOD was formed AFTER WWII. All the politicos who say it solved many issues and used that reorg as an example were making a false analogy. They created DOD in 1947 AFTER the war, not in 1943 during the war. Also, does anybody have an actual copy of a purported secret memo where GS-13s and SESers were forbidden to discuss the cons of creating DHS?

Fri, Sep 2, 2011

The answer was not a new Czar (ODNI) or new uber-agency (DHS). The answer should have been a POTUS and Congress with the guts to tell the Joint Chiefs and agency heads to stop their internecine turf warfare and play nice together, and get rid of some of the duplicative agencies. DCI, the CIA boss, was already the head of the intel community under law. The fact the the service agencies and FBI, et al, ignored him, did not mean the function needed to be moved up yet another layer. It meant some heads needed to knocked together. As for DHS- this shotgun wedding of different clans and agencies is still a mess. Sometimes the only way to reorganize, is to start with a blank sheet of paper. We need a lot fewer spook agencies, and a lot fewer flavors of feds with badges. The more players you have, the more time is spent coordinating and fighting with the other players, and the less actually accomplishing the mission.

Thu, Sep 1, 2011

Could weakened leadership and culture be caused by the fact that 80% of the employees at DHS were contractors? Consider your most senior employees are transient political appointees. These political appointees bring in their vision and carefully lobbied positions. Of course everything that was being done by previous administrations is wrong and only this new vision can be tolerated. But there is too much backlash to eliminate these old missions so the mission of the agency is expanded beyond its funding. Then consider that the career senior management is contantly fighting among itself to establish its domain and pecking order. Of course chaos means less oversite. Contractors constantly whisper to political appointees that it would be better if there was less federal control over what they are doing and authority is then duly lessened. Federal law and regulations are ignored by the contractors because violations are not penalized. Hence an agency made dysfunctional because the career federal managers have oversite responsibilities with no authority or resources to enforce.

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