part of James Pinkerton's two-part series on
the "crisis of process" in the Federal Goverment is up at
Tech Central Station. (The first part is here, which
I blogged about here.)
The new article provides more thought-provoking points, but I'm less
convinced of Pinkerton's diagnosis as time goes on, and so I'm
even more skeptical of the "fix" he proposes.
The fix, is, essentially, to reshape and reorganize the Executive Branch:
Take the functions of the federal executive branch and turn them all
into five "super departments." That is, take the existing unwieldy 15 Cabinet
departments -- and umpty-ump independent agencies -- and collapse
them into a user-friendly quintet:
- National Security — including Defense, State, the CIA
- Economy & Trade — ncluding Treasury, Commerce, Special
- Justice, Border & Homeland Security
- Energy, Environment, Science & Technology
- Human Resources & Transportation
The five heads of these "super departments" would be "Super Secretaries"
working closely with the President.
I'm far from an expert on organization issues; it could very well be
that this might "work better" (in some sense). But Pinkerton's arguments
aren't very convincing.
the one of the prime examples he thinks demonstrate
the need for a "fix":
FEMA's Katrina response. In the first article he claimed
that the problems were due to FEMA being "tangled up in turf issues
inside the Department of Homeland Security." But in the second article:
But, some will object, what about the Katrina/FEMA problem? That is,
Washington wisdom these days is that the once-independent Federal
Emergency Management Agency lost clout when it was folded into the
Department of Homeland Security. Ex-FEMA chief Michael Brown
says he was unable to muster sufficient resources to react to Katrina,
because he didn't have the pull, buried as he was inside the DHS domain.
There's some merit to that argument, but there's even more merit to the
argument that "Brownie" wasn't
very good. And as noted, Chertoff doesn't add much value, either.
Erm, so which is it? Incompetent people, or a "process failure"? Will
solving one problem solve the other? Why? There's a lot of handwaving
in Pinkerton's article, but no clear and convincing demonstration that
a reorganized Executive Branch would have gotten relief to New Orleans
any faster than the current one did.
I tend to think we don't have a "crisis of process" so much as two other
A crisis of vision: Pinkerton doesn't consider that it
simply might be that no central goverment can handle
certain things competently. His historical examples of government
"working" are, tellingly, all about war: his heroes are Lincoln,
Roosevelt, and Truman.
I'm willing to grant that centralized governments do a great job
of killing their enemies, foreign and domestic. But it's at least
plausible (and, I think, real likely)
that other sorts of governmental tasks are better off decentralized.
Pinkerton's plan doesn't really deal with this.
A crisis of PR; the standards by which government is said to "work" are
notoriously flexible. Generally, opinion makers and the media will
think the people they like are doing a heckuva job. Since a lot of those
folks currently despise Bush, they're more than happy to play up
bad news and assign blame. And we conclude that "government doesn't
But go read the article, Pinkerton's at least provocative.