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August 23, 2004
New Intelligence Reorganization Proposal Not Much Better

Dan Eggen reports in today's Washington Post that Republican Senators have developed a new reorganization plan for American intelligence to compete with that drawn up by the 9/11 Commission. Senator Pat Roberts surprised Democrats and the White House alike by announcing this new proposal on Face The Nation yesterday and almost immediately, both reacted negatively towards it:

The Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee unveiled a radical proposal yesterday to remove most of the nation's major intelligence-gathering operations from the CIA and Pentagon and place them directly under the control of a new national intelligence director.

The plan, announced by Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.) and endorsed by eight other committee Republicans, is more extensive than the reorganization proposed last month by the Sept. 11, 2001, commission and would result in the virtual dismantling of the CIA. It also would severely curb the power and influence of the Defense Department, which controls the bulk of the federal classified intelligence budget.

Under the plan, the CIA's three main directorates would be torn from the agency and turned into separate entities reporting to separate directors. The Pentagon would lose control of three of its largest operations as well, including the super-secret National Security Agency, which intercepts electronic signals worldwide.

In my opinion, the 9/11 Commission's plan for reorganizing intelligence made a fundamental mistake: it kept all of the CIA/Defense boxes separated while layering two other levels of bureaucracy on top. In effect, it pushed the raw data two more levels of management away from the President and forced everything to come up through one person, giving the President only one voice in his ear for intelligence -- which I believe to be a huge mistake in and of itself.

Now we have the new Senate GOP proposal which superficially corrects one aspect of the commission plan but fails to correct the true failings of the current system -- function duplication, lack of communication, and entrenched bureaucracy. It starts off well by freeing all but the least necessary functions from the CIA and Defense Departments, a move which would allow an independent intelligence chief budgetary control and the ability to prune bureaucrats from the system.

However, instead of combining functions for better efficiency and removing barriers to internal communication, the GOP plan would simply remove the individual units from their current lead agencies and turn them into individual agencies themselves -- which would only create more and larger bureaucracies, more paperwork, more rules regarding cross-functional interaction, and so on. How exactly does this help streamline anything? Roberts referred to this plan as "bold", but both plans are textbook examples of the kind of reorganizations that corporations do when they're bored: a lot of shuffling around, with a couple of the latest management fads tossed in, and in the end nothing changes.

Democrats criticized the GOP for cooking this up on their own instead of inviting them to be part of the process, while the White House took the more pragmatic approach of pointing out the plan's flaws:

The plan ran into several immediate obstacles, including a committee Democrat, Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.). He said on the same CBS broadcast: "It's a mistake to begin with a partisan bill, no matter what is in it."

The White House indicated it would study the proposal, but a senior intelligence official said yesterday the plan "makes no sense" and would cause more problems than it solves.

"Rather than eliminating stovepipes, this will create more of them," said the intelligence official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the political debate. "Rather than bringing intelligence disciplines together, it smashes them apart. . . . This proposal is unworkable and would hamper rather than enhance the nation's intelligence operations."

On the other hand, one Senate Democrat liked it, at least for now:

The plan was welcomed by the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry, who has endorsed the changes advocated by the commission, including creation of a national intelligence director.

Rand Beers, the campaign's national security adviser, said in a statement that the proposal "is very similar to the reforms offered by John Kerry but needs to become bipartisan to be fully successful." Beers also accused President Bush of "dragging his feet and resisting any real changes."

Didn't Kerry endorse the 9/11 Commission's plan five weeks ago when it was released? Perhaps someone didn't mention this to the Senator, but the two plans are mutually exclusive. Had Bush implemented the first proposal (in five weeks!?!), then he would have had to re-organize a second time the following month. It's yet another flip-flop, and this one really demonstrates the superficiality of the Democratic candidate; he's for anything that the White House is against.

What is needed from a reorganization is a complete deconstruction of our current intelligence systems and the creation of a new system from the ground up, one that combines functions and reduces cross-functional bureaucracy. Instead of layering two more levels of management onto the existing structure, or turning individual units into an alphabet soup of individual agencies, we need one intelligence community that combines our civilian and defense efforts, builds teamwork, reduces duplication of effort, and stresses accountability and control through a single executive office or council. Neither proposal in play at the moment does anything approaching this.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 23, 2004 5:34 AM

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