Time for change

With the Bush administration calling for the establishment of a new Cabinet agency, an opportunity for serious change in a broken system has arisen.

The new agency could be the third largest department, behind the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, and could cause massive upheaval in the executive branch — not necessarily a bad idea.

The federal government of today is a holdover from the Cold War, as proposed by the Hoover Commission in 1947 and later implemented by President Truman. A second Hoover Commission under President Eisenhower in 1956 laid the foundation for DOD and the overall executive branch structure.

The world has changed since then. The Cold War and the Industrial Age ended, and the 21st century and the Information Age began. When the Hoover Commission was defining governmental structure, Bill Gates had not been born. Back then, Thomas Watson Jr., CEO of IBM Corp., estimated that the world needed only six computers. It's time for a change, and this is an opportunity for change.

Departments and their subordinate agencies have their own constituencies and agendas. Cross-agency cooperation tends to go only as far as the budget leash allows, and the operative phrase is "keep your hands off my money."

Forty agencies have their hands in the trade area, and clearly lots of organizations have missions that are integral to homeland security. Overall, we could create a better government — one that works better and costs less — if we went back to the drawing board.

The federal government should move toward the establishment of a Homeland Security Department, but only as a temporary measure that serves as a bridge to a full-fledged reorganization of government. I think we will be able to achieve President Bush's request for a new department, at least in part, because no one has the political clout to resist a change that will contribute to homeland security.

But let's make that initial department a virtual organization, the kind with which we have had some recent experience and success, and make the final product one that is rooted in more thoughtful and considered analysis.

Suppose we establish the new department with a sunset clause that mandates a complete reorganization of government to be defined during a two-year period, with an implementation phase of two years beyond that? That could provide a workable solution that would give us immediate improvement for homeland security and also provide an incentive and catalyst to a better government overall.

Can you think of anything else that has stayed the same since 1949, when the Hoover Commission structure was implemented? Not Bill Gates, not IBM, not the global economy.

Sometimes an opportunity is too good to let pass. This could be one of those occasions.

Arnold is national vice chairman of the Industry Advisory Council.

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