July 9, 2007

Shocked, Shocked! At The Inefficiencies Of Super-Bureaucracies

The Washington Post reveals today that the conglomeration of 22 federal agencies into the Department of Homeland Security has still not been successfully completed. Four years after its creation, a number of top management positions have yet to be filled. The DHS says that the report overstates the problem -- because the expansion is still continuing:

The Bush administration has failed to fill roughly a quarter of the top leadership posts at the Department of Homeland Security, creating a "gaping hole" in the nation's preparedness for a terrorist attack or other threat, according to a congressional report to be released today.

As of May 1, Homeland Security had 138 vacancies among its top 575 positions, with the greatest voids reported in its policy, legal and intelligence sections, as well as in immigration agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Coast Guard. The vacant slots include presidential, senior executive and other high-level appointments, according to the report by the majority staff of the House Homeland Security Committee.

A DHS spokesman challenged the report's tally, saying that it is skewed by a sudden expansion this spring in the number of top management jobs. Before then, only 12 percent of positions were unfilled in a department that has always been thinly staffed at headquarters, spokesman Russ Knocke said. ...

"One of the continuing problems appears to be the over politicization of the top rank of Department management," concludes the report by the committee, chaired by Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.). "This could lead to heightened vulnerability to terrorist attack."

I'm not sure which of the themes found in this article are the most ironic: the lack of efficiency in a gargantuan bureaucracy, the attack on the White House for "overpoliticization" of the DHS, or that the DHS's excuse for not filling positions is that it's too busy creating more. Let's just take them one hilarious step at a time.

The DHS got created by Congress in a fit of bureaucracy-building following the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 Commission, not coincidentally comprised almost entirely of bureaucrats, decided that the best approach to bolstering federal agencies in homeland security and intelligence was to burden them with even more bureaucratic overhead. Rather than create efficiencies, it created a management system more out of touch with its missions than anything preceding it. That created the need to extend consultant contracts far beyond their initial cost estimates, since the DHS bureaucracy had no clue as to how to hire for its varied component agencies.

Thompson's charges of politicization of DHS are laughable on its face. First, the superbureaucracy exists because of the politicized debate over streamlining, rather than the use of thoughtful analysis at the time. Second, it hardly appears that politicization is the issue when presidential appointments haven't yet been made. Third, the Democrats have already thoroughly politicized the oversight process this session, making this charge rather silly.

Finally, though, the DHS itself has to take the award for irony. The excuse of expansion for not filling necessary and existing open slots is jaw-dropping. Why did DHS start its expansion before filling the 12% of positions left unfilled first? What kind of management expands an organization that already cannot fill its open slots?

Four years after its creation, people in Washington still speak about the challenges of unifying the management of 22 different agencies. Perhaps that should be the first clue that creating a superbureaucracy wasn't the right answer from the start.


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Comments (25)

Posted by SkyWatch | July 9, 2007 9:03 AM

"creating a "gaping hole" in the nation's preparedness for a terrorist attack or other threat, according to a congressional report to be released today."

That is your answer. They know a new attack will happen but now have cover.It's Bushes fault.

Never mind the moving funds from spying on terrorism to global warming.

Posted by davod | July 9, 2007 9:11 AM

Let's not forget that Bush thought this was a bad idea from the start and was basically forced to do this.

Posted by Lew | July 9, 2007 9:21 AM

In my experience, at least 70% of politics is CYA and 20% is trying to punch holes in the opposition's cover. That leaves 10% for actually trying to do something useful. The reason politicians love bureaucracy is because its a wonderful scapegoat that's always there when you need one, and its a great way to pay a lot of the pseudo-intellectuals and constituents to stay off the streets and be quiet. Plus, its a fabulous conduit for strategic "leaks" to a gullible press. What's not to like?

Good Luck & Have a nice day!

Posted by AmendmentX | July 9, 2007 9:55 AM

Nothing is ever learned in Washington D.C. That or marble seemingly impedes the mental processes. And obliterates any memory of oath of office.
All one needs to do is look at the disaster FEMA is. And has become. And the answer to an huge inefficient bureaucracy? Make it bigger. The thought process seems to be "We'll make that elephant dance Swan Lake YET! All we need is a bigger cattle prod." And the fact that elephants were never designed to dance a simple do-si-do or even swing in time to the music, let alone dance Swan Lake always escapes Washington types. Always.

Posted by unclesmrgol | July 9, 2007 10:25 AM

Could the fact that Democrats are now sitting on top position nominations (thus cementing their position as the top Do-Nothings of the past century) have something to do with this lack of filled positions?

When someone complains of politicization, they are really saying that the people filling the positions don't hew to the complainer's political line.

Posted by Carol Herman | July 9, 2007 10:25 AM

The CIA and the FBI are wastes of time! And, they were not there in any meaningful way preventing, or even signalling, that 9/11 was gonna happen.

The Federal systems STINK.

And, there are no fixes for this turkey. Add buracracy isn't gonna cure a thing. And, given how Fitzgerald worked the system, it's about time we did something about these "law enforcement" pieces of crap that have no vested interests in our security OR justice.

Meanwhile, the Turks (per Drudge), are just sitting on the border of Irak, ready to attack the Kurds. Oh, and the UN is supposed to "solve" Bush's dilemma on "what to do" in Irak. (Which just means giving the UN access to the oil wealth.) Seems to me we're being short-changed at the managment end of things.

You bet GOVERNMENT is ALWAYS the problem! Especially when we have a weak man in the presidency. Hope he figures something out soon.

Posted by unclesmrgol | July 9, 2007 10:37 AM

Could the fact that Democrats are now sitting on top position nominations (thus cementing their position as the top Do-Nothings of the past century) have something to do with this lack of filled positions?

When someone complains of politicization, they are really saying that the people filling the positions don't hew to the complainer's political line.

Posted by Carol Herman | July 9, 2007 10:54 AM

One of the things that went wrong in 2000 is that neither candidate was popular enough. When Bush "got" the nod, rather than the bore, the thing he did not do; or even know how to do; was capture the imagination of the American People. He had no tongue. And, he limited himself by his hires. (Today? At least Tony Snow is there. So you can see that "some" conservatives manage to talk well.)

It was in this atmosphere, though, that the cancer grew. Because, among democraps, Bush was never respected. Nixon, who earned landslide victories, was also running against handicapped Bonkeys. And, when the results were obvious, the press (coupled with elements in government) went out to destroy his presidency. And, they did.

So, obviously, the METHOD is there!

And, today? The Bonkeys have even less support outside their party. With a lot of voters now looking at both parties as having flaws.

I've also noticed that as the years go by, the Bonkeys get leadership that's scandalous. It doesn't come from the mainstream. Instead? It's like the department of education; enriched by where they sit. And, there's no leadership in sight.

The GOP? You think Lott's a leader? Didn't you just discover that McCain has no traction with the public? And, inside the universe of the congress, there are now fears that they could lose their jobs, if outside candidates came up to challenge them?

Yes, at least the GOP is running with enough presidential timber, you can't accuse them of not having viable candidates. But against whom would that candidate run?

And, why assume that the Bonkeys ever intend to play fair?

For a president to be successful, he has to get out in front of the crowds and LEAD. (In a parliamentary system he can choose "the weak hand," because he elevates others into powerful seats. And, they won't pull his government down. Or, apart.) But it's a ticklish maneuver.

Too bad Dubya is not an "idea" man; nor is he surrounded by talent. He's also at the losing end of his fight with congress. Where congress is neither loved nor trusted. But they are able to go at him, in a frenzy. How can you stop this nonsense?

Ya know? With Hillary or Obama, or both, your potential candidates from the Donks, there's very little chance that the mire we are caught in is gonna change. There's still too much money available. The New Yuk Times isn't bankrupt. Nor are the Saud's. Those who buy influence are still peddling.

And, the problems with terror? Still abound.

I think Glasgow and London's attacks do give us hope that the opponents in these wars, are none too bright.

But, again. It's like the department of education out there. How can you fix this? When so many people at the top are just incompetent, weak, or communists? They're not about to go away. Or give up.

Dubya's been a lackluster leader. A better one would have been able to point out what's going on. And, the people would listen.

Meanwhile, you have the Internet, and at least some of us can speak out.

Posted by RBMN | July 9, 2007 11:02 AM

Who would want a DHS job? Your success will be completely ignored, and your mistakes will get you in front of a televised congressional hearing, to get berated by incompetents for your "incompetence."

Posted by onlineanalyst | July 9, 2007 11:27 AM

The Beltway mindset appears to be stuck on the panacea of Federal bureaucratic solutions to all problems, real or imagined. Department of Nationalized Health Care or Department of Global Climate Change, anyone?

Note this remark in the article: "A DHS spokesman challenged the report's tally, saying that it is skewed by a sudden expansion this spring in the number of top management jobs. ". Lots of need for chief but not enough Indians! At any rate, what we end up with is plenty of seat warmers can pass the buck and cover their heinies.

Meanwhile, Scott Johnson links to Todd Bensman's investigation of the seriousness of and implications of the breaching of our borders as a national security issue: http://powerlineblog.com/archives/018175.php. Homeland Security, where are you? High risk illegal aliens of special interest are seeping through our porous borders because of inefficiency.

It appears that the real solution to our nation's challenges are best met at the local level rather than through top-down management.

Posted by MarkT | July 9, 2007 11:34 AM

> All one needs to do is look at the disaster
> FEMA is. And has become.

If you approach gov't systems with the view that they will fail, and you install incompetent people in key positions, cut funding, etc. then guess what? They don't work so well. Surprise!

Posted by Dale Michaud | July 9, 2007 11:37 AM

President Bush initially did not what DHS, but the Dems kept pusing and now the Dems don't like the result.

You know, I would love to paraphrase Daily Kos by stating, "Screm 'em", but the harsh reality of our national security precludes such things, which is something the Democrats/liberals do not and will not understand.

Remember, the Democrats is the party that attempted to literally tear the country in two and have been working, consciously or not, towards that goal ever since.

I am not the Republicans are gold, but they are definately better than the Democrats!

Posted by roc ingersol | July 9, 2007 11:39 AM

Based on an average salary over four years I'd say we saved at least 55 million dollars. I wonder what they did with the money they had budgeted for those salaries.

Posted by onlineanalyst | July 9, 2007 11:46 AM

Oops! I should have proofread before posting: "Lots of need for chiefs but not for enough Indians! At any rate, what we end up with is plenty of seat warmers who can pass the buck and cover their heinies."

At any rate, we would be much better off following a business/corporate model at the federal level by (1) applying cost/benefits analysis to adoption of programs or laws and (2) reducing redundancies of programs and personnel through RIFs, and (3) restructuring organizational charts by determining effective matrixes.

Color me cynical if the employment figures cited by the government are inflated by the increase of bureaucratic hires.

Posted by Okonkolo | July 9, 2007 12:24 PM

The Dems kept pushing? Yeah right, the GOP majority in the House and Senate knew better, but those noisy Dems just made them do it?
The DHS was created by a GOP congress and signed off by Bush, who didn't have the balls to veto or the brains to sell a reasonable alternative, even at the height of his influence. Both parties wanted to "do something" and look active and strong, and the DHS is the fat bastard child of that effort. The reasonable voices got drowned out by the chest thumping. But chest thumping helps one get reelected.

Posted by Burt | July 9, 2007 1:02 PM

Okonkolo, You are mistaken. The Dems controlled the Senate. Remember Tom Daschle?

Posted by Okonkolo | July 9, 2007 1:35 PM

Burt, thanks for pointing out my mistake. That whole Cheney-tiebreaker/Jeffords defection year is a bit hazy to me already. I believe DHS was authorized after the Democrats lost the 02 elections, but while they were still in power. But there was already an Office of Homeland Security led by Tom Ridge before that, so it's all hairsplitting. I still say it is the fat bloated offspring of both parties, but a mistake is a mistake.

Posted by SkyWatch | July 9, 2007 3:11 PM

Did I just read the name Tom Ridge?

The guy who put sheet over the statues so as to not offend the tender folks?

Hmmm... that seems like a good comparison to the new EU.

PS.. this is off topic but does anyone remember Hillary Clinton getting 40 million to restore the flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner? What happened to that?

Posted by Red Wolverine | July 9, 2007 4:23 PM

We need a President who is serious about reducing the size of government. The only one i beleive on the subject is Rudy. This is for the simple reason that he has already done it!!!!!!.


Posted by km | July 9, 2007 4:33 PM

Skywatch - That was Ashcroft, not Ridge.

Posted by pilsener | July 9, 2007 5:05 PM

New or expanded agencies are NEVER created in order to provide solutions - but to provide the appearance of providing solutions. DHS was inevitably going to be a big, clunky, highly-politicized bureaucracy populated with people seeking to expand their budgets. No surprise.

Bush and Republicans certainly don't get a pass for allowing DHS to be born, and the Democrats primary interest has always been in unionizing all DHS employees.

Another example that any legislation that creates a new cabinet department is probably very bad legislation.

Posted by dixie68 | July 9, 2007 7:43 PM

The House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee is chaired by Bennie Thompson, who never had a job that paid more than twenty something thousand per year before he was elected by a gerrymandered district. Now he is Mississippi"s wealthiest representative.
It is no wonder he wanted to swap his agriculture committee for the homeland security committee when he realized that the dems were going to control the house. Always, just follow the money to see why nothing of consequence gets done.

Posted by Monkei | July 9, 2007 7:55 PM

We need a President who is serious about reducing the size of government. The only one i beleive on the subject is Rudy. This is for the simple reason that he has already done it!!!!!!.

St. Rudy? The guy is only running on 911. If you can figure out a way to reduce the size of government by talking exclusively about 911, then please enlighten me. Anytime he talks about anything else, he offends the wingnuts, afterall he has nothing else in common with them! He supports abortion, he hates guns, and he dresses up like a woman in his spare time. This is the guy you want to be President, because he can string 121 sentences together about 911 but has nothing to say about other things?

Here is the REAL deal. There is no such thing as a politician who can/will/or even attempt to reduce the size of government. To them the government is a business and you don't shrink your business. The business is bringing home the pork for your district, not working for the good of the entire country. It's always your SOB congressman that is screwing up everything, not mine anyway Congressmen have two jobs, bringing home the bacon and running for re-election.

You want to get serious, then you GOP followers have to quit blaming the dems, the dems have to quit blaming the GOP. They are both the same damn person when it comes to Washington and the government. We need to start some sort of grass root effort, somehow someway to throw big business out of the mix of government ... it won't happen in our lifetimes however.

Posted by JC Pharr | July 9, 2007 9:34 PM

Having worked a good bit with DHS agencies, before the department existed and after, I guess I’ll be the one who’ll stick up for them a bit. First, one disclosure and one disclaimer: I do not work for DHS, I’m in the private sector, but I do work with some of their different agencies on pretty much a daily basis. I’m also not trying to excuse any screw-ups; there have been quite a few that have left me shaking my head wonder what they were thinking.

I’ll defend the idea that there is merit to consolidating functions related to security (whether from natural or man-made events) into a central point. The process by which it has gone about may well be considered flawed but the idea itself is solid. If it seems unwieldy, remember what you are dealing with. 22 agencies, some of whom evolved separately over decades – or as in USCG and Customs, centuries – mixed with ones newly created, were consolidated under one umbrella. Some of them were used to cooperating, others were not and some had never existed. Shove them all together and expect them to hit the ground running?

I’ll share one example that might provide some insight into the challenges: border security. I personally sat in a meeting where we spent half a day trying to determine what the “border” was and for good reason. Different agencies have different legal definitions of where the border is. It is not just the contiguous land border of the US; it is also the air and sea (which gets into territorial waters v economic waters). A port of entry is not just on the Rio Grand, it is also the Denver airport. How do you reconcile different agencies with different legal definitions of the border, and therefore extents of authority? Do you secure the border by a fence and remote sensing or do you deploy a “defense in depth” throughout the country or do you push the borders out and begin the clearance process overseas (the answer is “all three,” btw)?

The point is that, whatever may be going on at the very top, there are a lot of people trying very hard to make this work. Others are good people but dealing with a kid in his late twenties who is now a GS 13 can drive you mad. Having a few holes at the top is not as big a problem as not having enough boots on the ground, so to speak.

Your mileage may, of course, vary.

Posted by Scrapiron | July 9, 2007 11:29 PM

Would you give up your current job and take a job in any government agency with the current make up of congress. Only if you are mentally retarded. What 300 investigations in 200 days? Democrats are not interested in the safety or well being of America and Americans. They are turning the country into a third world country as rapidly as possible in hopes they will be in charge. Power, money and mental retardation has turned them all into traitors. Bad news for the democrats, no one likes a traitor to their country and any communist 'ruler' will have them beheaded or they will disappear (never to be seen again) within days.