10 August 2004
Pontificating about intelligence restructuring
By Craig J. Cantoni
August 5, 2004
Not being an expert in subjects has not stopped me and other big-mouthed pundits from pontificating about them. For once, I’m going to pontificate about a subject in which I have expertise—30 years of expertise to be exact.
The subject is the 9/11 Commission’s recommended restructuring of national intelligence. My expertise is not in national intelligence, but it is in making large, complex organizations more effective. Here, free of charge, is what I’ve learned over the years:
- When departments, or stovepipes, within a large organization are not communicating, cooperating and coordinating effectively with each other, tinkering with the organization structure is almost always the wrong solution. – Likewise, establishing a new layer of management or ”assistant to” and ”coordinator” positions is almost always the wrong solution. – Investing in an expensive computer system is almost always the wrong solution. – Having the problems ”solved” by top management or committees of high-level people with no front-line experience in how work gets done lower in the organization is almost always the wrong solution.
-Having the problems ”solved” by attorneys and other narrow staff specialists who have worked at the top of the organization all their careers without any operational experience in the ”real” work of the organization is almost always the wrong solution.
So what is the right solution? The right solution is for cross-departmental teams of lower-level employees to identify, prioritize and solve the interdepartmental problems, and then to establish fluid processes and mechanisms that will enable them to communicate, coordinate and cooperate with each other across departmental boundaries without having to crawl up their stovepipe for approval, and without worrying about violating their job descriptions and getting in trouble with the head of their stovepipe or with the personnel department.
The role of top management is to support, encourage, reward and exemplify such cross-departmental teamwork, and to establish pay and promotion systems that incentivize employees to operate in the best interest of the entire organization and not in the parochial interest of their own department.
The 9/11 Commission and Congress, where most of the Members are attorneys, have it exactly backwards. They have recommended a super-coordinator position of Intelligence Czar, whose responsibilities and authority viz a viz the FBI, CIA and Military Intelligence will be even less clear than those of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and even more removed from employees on the firing line than the current directors of those agencies.
Incidentally, there is now an Assistant to the President for Homeland Security. In other words, Tom Ridge, who supposedly reports to the President on matters of homeland security, has a counterpart who reports to the President on matters of homeland security. I kid you not. It is unfathomable how this bizarre setup improves communication, cooperation and communication between the various agencies and departments that are responsible for homeland security.
The reason for the extra homeland security position might be the fact that Ridge (and other cabinet members) spend most of their time appearing before congressional committees, the number of which has skyrocketed over the years, due to self-serving Members wanting the status, power and publicity of serving as committee chairs. Since taking office, Ridge has had to appear before 130 committees. By contrast, Osama bin Laden does not have to appear before any committees to plan direct and coordinate his evil work.
All of this would be funny if it were not so serious. When The Decline and Fall of the American Empire is written 100 years from now, one of the later chapters will be about the lawyers in Congress who restructured American intelligence.
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Mr. Cantoni is an author, columnist and president of Capstone Consulting Group of Scottsdale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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