One of the reasons that the government failed to prevent the attacks of 9/11 was a fragmented organizational structure that had been built over several decades. It had developed to accommodate existing bureaucratic cultures and executives reluctant to relinquish power, with jumbled missions and disjointed jurisdictions plaguing many government agencies. Some devolution of power is a good thing. Competition between intelligence agencies, for example, can ultimately help yield a stronger and more accurate product. In other instances, particular tasks are so politically or operationally sensitive that there is a valid reason to keep them separate from other activities that could contaminate their efforts. Constitutional protections of American civil rights provide an excellent example of a valid cause for placing foreign intelligence and domestic law enforcement responsibilities in two separate agencies. As circumstances changed over the years, government organization and bureaucracy changed as well to accommodate a fluid situation.
But there is another organizational lesson that business and the military have learned well. Even when valid reasons exist for keeping certain activities separate, when various organizations are all working toward a single goal, they often require a single leader. Having them report to one person and one office with ultimate authority over their actions helps keep resources and personnel all focused on a single mission and helps prevent distractions due to personal ambition or enmity. The national security apparatus of the United States never had this. Of course, all agencies within the executive branch ultimately report to the president, but in practice the president is far too busy to assume an active role in the management of the numerous executive organizations. So these agencies were allowed to waiver in their focus for many years, contributing to the confusion that eventually led to 9/11.
1. The Department of Homeland Security
Following 9/11, the President and the Congress created the Department of Homeland Security to unite under a single authority all of the civilian agencies dedicated to protecting the United States from crisis and to cleaning up in the aftermath of disaster. The purpose of this reorganization was to encourage information sharing between distinct agencies and to streamline response time in the event of emergency, not defined only as a terrorist attack but also to include natural disasters. DHS includes agencies dedicated to border and transportation security, information and infrastructure protection, emergency preparedness and response, and citizenship and immigration, as well as the Coast Guard and Secret Service. DHS represents a broad-based approach to emergency protection and management and recognition that any emergency policy will encompass a variety of complementary but distinct functions.
DHS has not been an unqualified success. As in the aftermath of any large-scale reorganization, it has required an adjustment on the part of many individuals and agencies. A succession of capable top-level executives have been appointed to help with the transition and many of them have quickly left, dispirited by the difficulties of bringing unhappy bureaucrats in line with a new reality. Other individuals have found themselves confronted by a new mountain of red tape that the reorganization was supposed to reduce. Yet DHS is slowly coming together, as agencies and employees adjust to their new situation and learn to work together in a new and sometimes difficult way. The first years of the reorganization have been difficult and more hard times will surely come, but the end result of these growing pains should be a Department of Homeland Security that lives up to the expectations of its founders and of the American people.
The other primary area of government restructuring was in the intelligence community. Since 1947, the American intelligence agencies had existed in a curious condition, with management and oversight responsibilities allocated in a largely unwieldy way. The National Security Act of 1947 created, among other things, the Central Intelligence Agency and the office of Director of Central Intelligence, or DCI. The DCI was not only the executive in charge of CIA but also the spokesperson and leader of the entire intelligence community, the collection of agencies that shared an intelligence capability. The intelligence community includes such agencies as FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the military services, portions of the Energy, Treasury and State Departments, the National Security Agency, and several smaller agencies, as well as CIA and its newest addition, the Department of Homeland Security. The DCI was supposed to be the leader of all these organizations, but often found himself in a conflict of interests. Particularly in determining budgets, the best intentions of the DCI were often misjudged by the leaders of other agencies in the intelligence community who assumed that his dual role as head of CIA would skew financial allocations toward that particular agency. This role as leader of CIA and of the intelligence community contributed to inter-agency friction and poor relations which in turn eroded the trust necessary to build a successful intelligence capability.
Upon the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, the federal government has dismantled this old organization and established a new Director of National Intelligence. The Director of Central Intelligence has become only the Director of the CIA and the new DNI has assumed his former oversight and advocacy roles. The objective is to level the playing field within the intelligence community to help overcome old jealousies and encourage cooperation and to provide a central office from which intelligence policy can be coordinated and to which intelligence consumers, including the President and Congress, can turn when they need questions answered. Once again, this reorganization requires some adjustment on the part of bureaucrats. But it has proven to be a much less painful transition than the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and appears to be yielding good results.