Saturday, March 24, 2007

Contradictory Trends in Bureaucratic Organization

Do you put things together, or take them apart?

You'll recall that we 'Mericans set up our Department of Homeland Security a few years ago to ensure that all of the appropriate divisions were working together in the War on Terror. Never mind the fact that the divisions were geographically separate. But time will change all that.

The Homeland Security Department is moving to an abandoned insane asylum.

The department outlined its $4.1 billion plan to consolidate most of its more than 60 Washington-area offices into a massive headquarters complex to be built at St. Elizabeths Hospital compound in Southeast Washington....

Homeland Security’s offices are scattered throughout Washington and Northern Virginia, an area that has some of the worst traffic in the nation. Homeland Security decided to start looking for a main headquarters site after a 2005 review ordered by Secretary Michael Chertoff showed people were spending too much time in traffic trying to get to meetings, spokesman Larry Orluskie said.

A headquarters complex “will ensure a unity of effort and command for the secretary, as well as build a culture and a spirit which are essential to having a happy and productive work force,” Undersecretary for Management Paul Schneider told the House Homeland Security subcommittee on management, investigations and oversight at a March 1 hearing.

Senior officials are concerned that a single Homeland Security culture — one that encourages cooperation among components such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Coast Guard — has not yet gelled. Schneider told the committee that grouping most component headquarters together will help foster a “one DHS” culture.

So we can fight the war on terror by bringing people together.

Wait, scratch that. We should fight the war on terror by setting people apart, so they can be more focused. Richard Posner:

The FBI came under heavy criticism last week when it was reported that the agency had failed properly to supervise the issuance of national security letters, a form of administrative subpoena used in terrorist investigations. The bureau, it turns out, was unable even to determine how many such subpoenas it has issued.

Just weeks earlier, it was discovered that the FBI had been misreporting the statistics that it uses to track its intelligence activities. The bureau attributed that lapse to its continued struggle -- five and a half years after the 9/11 attacks -- to master modern information technology....

It is more than a decade since the then director of the FBI, Louis Freeh, tried to make the bureau take the terrorist threat to the United States seriously. He failed. His successor, the current director, Robert Mueller, has tried harder than Mr. Freeh, and has made some progress, but not enough. The cause lies deep in the bureau's organizational culture. The FBI is a detective bureau. Its business is not to prevent crime but to catch criminals....

Detecting terrorist plots in advance so that they can be thwarted is the business of intelligence agencies. The FBI is not an intelligence agency, and has a truncated conception of intelligence: gathering information that can be used to obtain a conviction....

Every major nation (and many minor ones), except the United States, concluded long ago that domestic intelligence should be separated from its counterpart to the FBI. Britain's MI5 is merely the best-known example. These nations realize that if you bury a domestic intelligence service in an agency devoted to criminal law enforcement, you end up with "intelligence-led policing," which means orienting intelligence collection and analysis not to preventing terrorist attacks but to assisting in law enforcement.

It would be so much easier if divisions were Play Doh, and you could just tear them apart and put them together at will. But divisions with human beings are a bit more complex to manage.


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