First Ladies Club

Notes from the political sidelines.
July 16 2005 8:48 AM

Desperate Housewives

George Bush learns you can't go home again.

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Chertoff is a step up from Tom Ridge, a bumbling bureaucratic infighter with a Bush-like gift for looking firm and clueless at the same time. You don't even have to read the details to know that Chertoff's reorganization scheme will make sense, because DHS is like the New York Mets lineup – every reshuffle makes at least as much sense as the last. In  just two short years, DHS has clearly found its core mission – reorganization.

With admirable understatement, the Washington Post sums up Chertoff's plan: "Many Americans will notice no immediate impact from the changes." Except those who work for the Federal Air Marshal Service, which will switch agencies for the fourth time in three years.  Before Sept. 11, we were vulnerable because warning memos from the front lines sat unheeded in higher-ups' mailboxes. Now a terrorist who wanted to send us a detailed warning directly would have a hard time finding the right email address. 

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Women and Children First: DHS has 22 "component agencies," in addition to 180,000 employees. The department is just a start-up, yet it's growing faster than GE. In its first term, the Bush administration proved it was possible to mismanage the smallest Cabinet department, Education, which has about 4,000 employees.  But as a failsafe, DHS doesn't have to rely on top-down mismanagement:  it has subdivisions like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that were impossible to manage even in a smaller organization. 

As the official leaker told the Post, this isn't another plan "to rearrange the deck chairs."  DHS already has a full-time staff 180,000 to do that.

Chertoff says he is still "fine-tuning" DHS's famous color-coded warning system, which is now Orange if you're riding the Yellow or Red line, but Yellow if you're riding JetBlue. The DHS secretary did agree today to one color change: Passengers flying into Washington National can finally leave their seats to go to the bathroom.

I wish Chertoff well. Organization does matter, and I'd rather go into the war on terror with the DHS we want, not the DHS we have

But confronting a new problem like terrorism requires us to take on tasks we didn't do before, not just write memos on letterhead we didn't have before.  Instead of stealing the Democrats' idea for DHS, Bush should have borrowed the British idea for a domestic security agency like MI5, which is helping the U.K. respond with inspiring swiftness to last week's attacks. 

Until recently, Bush has caved to bureaucratic pressure from the FBI, which wants to keep doing things the way it always has, only with a new flow chart.  A few weeks ago, Bush's homeland security advisor at the White House announced baby steps that could take us closer to developing the capability of MI5. 

Book Group:  Some CEOs have been known to give their workforce copies of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  If he can find them, Chertoff might want to email his 180,000 employees  the chapter on "the Whole Science of Government"  from Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit

     The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under Government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. . . . If another Gunpowder Plot had been discovered half an hour before the lighting of the match, nobody would have been justified in saving the parliament until there had been half a score of boards, half a bushel of minutes, several sacks of official memoranda, and a family-vault full of ungrammatical correspondence, on the part of the Circumlocution Office.

     This glorious establishment had been early in the field, when the one sublime principle involving the difficult art of governing a country, was first distinctly revealed to statesmen. It had been foremost to study that bright revelation and to carry its shining influence through the whole of the official proceedings. Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving--HOW NOT TO DO IT. ... 1:35 P.M.  (link)

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