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Report faults government restructuring after 9/11

Aug. 29, 2011 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
A new report calls government resturing after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center "a cautionary tale."
A new report calls government resturing after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center "a cautionary tale." (Air Force)

The government restructuring after the Sept. 11 attacks a decade ago offers some lessons in what not to do, according to a new report that labels the creation of the Homeland Security Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence "a cautionary tale."

Both reorganizations were prompted by the government's failure to head off the 9/11 attacks. Despite the appeal of consolidating agencies to save money, such efforts "can be extremely disruptive, consume enormous energy, divert attention from important policy initiatives and at least in the short run, cost extra, not less, money," says the report, released Monday by the Partnership for Public Service.

The 2003 Department of Homeland Security merger of 22 agencies and 180,000 employees was the largest federal reorganization since the creation of the Defense Department a half-century earlier. About a year later, DHS had its first strategic plan, but that document wasn't enough to head off struggles over the new department's domestic intelligence role, the status of the previously independent Federal Emergency Management Agency and even clothing, the report says.

An early plan to provide common uniforms for DHS law enforcement officers was dropped in response to fierce internal resistance.

"I thought the Border Patrol would en masse walk out and quit," Frances Townsend, a former homeland security adviser to then-President George W. Bush, is quoted in the report as saying. "They had a proud history."

From its beginnings in 2005, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has battled to assert control over the 16-agency intelligence community. At the same time, the new office was not necessarily choosy about whom it hired initially. As a result, "we got people who knew nothing about intelligence, absolutely nothing, but they showed up because the word on the street was, ‘If you're a GS-13 and you want to be a GS-14, ODNI is hiring,'" Mike McConnell, the office's former director, recounted in the report.

More effective was the development of a common set of values and distribution of awards and decorations to people who demonstrated those values, said Ronald Sanders, ODNI's former chief human capital officer. Trite though it might seem, he said, the effort carried a positive psychic value "that was off the charts."

The report, titled "Securing the Future: Management Lessons of 9/11," draws on interviews with more than 20 past and present government officials. It comes as President Obama is still considering an overhaul of agencies that handle trade and exports, although he has yet to announce any action on recommendations forwarded to him in June by staffers at the Office of Management and Budget.

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