Fixing 'the problem'

Here we go again. Another reorganization that purports to solve "the problem." The Bush administration's proposal to create a Homeland Security Department is just another shuffle of the boxes. The administration is not grappling with the real problem, which is poor communication between law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community. In my experience, if an organization is ineffective, it's usually attributable to ineffective people — not the organizational structure. To be sure, any organization can be fine-tuned, but it's the people who make an organization succeed or fail.

But it's hard to fire federal employees. Because of that, the federal government prefers to take the easy way out by reorganizing and sweeping its ineffective people under the rug. Often, these people are shunted to the side and given duties no one cares about or no duties at all.

That approach works, but it is extremely costly. An agency must then ask its effective employees to do the work of those who have been cast aside. If you pile on too much work, even good people, no matter how good they are, eventually become ineffective and demoralized, and the problem gets worse, not better.

The Bush proposal includes an information analysis and infrastructure protection element that would get information from the FBI and the CIA and provide a central point for the analysis of terrorist threats. That sounds like transforming a two-ring circus into a three-ring circus. In my opinion, such an approach can only impede the timely analysis of terrorist threats, where speed is of the essence.

I hope Congress will recognize what's being proposed for what it is: a game of musical chairs! With the right people in charge, there's no reason why the FBI and the CIA can't share information and responsibility. You don't need a third agency to analyze their data. And where are the analysts going to come from? The FBI? The CIA? That would only deplete those agencies' analytical capabilities. And if you hire new people, by the time they're up to snuff, we'll have had another Sept. 11 disaster!

And something I read really makes me want to scream. Randall Yim, managing director of national preparedness at the General Accounting Office and a former assistant secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration was quoted as saying, "Reorganization by itself still does not obviate the need for better information sharing and [for] an intelligent strategy for integrating and using this information."

Why do we need an "expert" to tell government executives what they should already know? This is a symptom of a wider problem that's prevalent in America today. No one stops to think unless they're forced to. We are all expecting our computers, wireless phones, personal digital assistants and TV sets to provide us with the answers.

As long as this mind-set prevails, we'll be sitting ducks for the next terrorist attack.

Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus column for Federal Computer Week. He can be reached at [email protected]


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