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.

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