Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Importance of Turf Wars

Annika linked to this.

Former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., announced Thursday that in an effort to fight global poverty he would appoint a new cabinet member responsible for the issue.

"I haven't come up with a name yet. It would be a new cabinet member whose responsibly would be America's efforts to fight global poverty," said Edwards.

Ignoring for the moment whether or not America should fight global poverty, there are bureaucratic questions involved.

Creation of any new Cabinet position will of necessity decrease the power of already-existing Cabinet positions. In this particular case, a "department of global poverty" will reduce the authority of the Department of State, and probably some other positions besides, in the same way that creation of the Department of Homeland Security reduced the power of the Department of Justice, and the creation of the Department of Education reduced the power of the (renamed) Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition to having other Cabinet Secretaries mad at you, the fact remains that creation of a new department doesn't really make much difference. Perhaps a Cabinet Secretary was powerful when our country only had a few Cabinet departments, but once you get to 15, or 20, or 30 Cabinet departments, who cares? The number of Cabinet secretaries is outside of the span of control of the President, and the President is naturally going to deal with the people he or she sees in the White House, rather than going out to Foggy Bottom or the Pentagon or whatever to get ideas.

In addition, the departments themselves are so huge that the question of who heads a department doesn't really affect the people in the units down below. In my last several years at Megacorp, the company has gone through several reorganizations, and my little workgroup has bounced all around the chain of command. Has this affected how I do my work? Not really. Does it matter whether a GS-4 Largess Clerk Typist reports to the Department of State, the Department of Global Poverty, or the White House Office of Political Favors? Not really.


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