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The Other Marshall Plan

Addressing The Threats At Home

By Michael Tanji | February 13, 2007

On the eve of war in Europe President Roosevelt promotes a relatively young but highly capable brigadier named George C. Marshall to Army Chief of Staff: a four-star position. Once he became a full general, Marshall kicked off something of a purge of the old-school generals who wouldn’t or couldn’t get with the 20th century program. To replace them he advanced to the general officer ranks – just as he had been – a variety of obscure, sometimes infamous, but talented company and field grade officers.

Marshall knew that there was no way he was going to win a war of tanks, airplanes and blitzkrieg with leadership that cut their teeth on trench warfare and horse cavalry. I mean after all, this was the crew that court martialed Billy Mitchell, the father of US Air Power. Marshall needed sharp and open minds and forward-leaners. In a way, he had the luxury of not having to go to war with the Army he had; he was able to seed the Army he wanted.

The time has come for the promotion of a new Marshall to lead our national security apparatus, and with him a new purge of the old guard. Someone with the willingness to cast off those who cannot or will not adapt to the changes that are adversely impacting our ability to fight and win the war we are in now, as well as the conflicts of the future. Consider:
  • From inside the wire at the Defense Intelligence Agency we have an updated, first-hand report of mismanagement and resulting morale problems. If history is any indication, this report will result in a foolish inquisition, not a necessary introspection. 
  • Since the war on terror started, the FBI has continued to lose weapons and computers, though at a slower pace than previously noted by inspectors. Despite a massive investment in time and money, it's Virtual Case File system had to be scrapped and there is no clear indication that the project that replaced it will avoid meeting a similar fate.
  • Long an example of waste, fraud and abuse when it comes to the application of technology, the National Security Agency is still failing to keep up with the pace and threats of the information age. To top it all off they’ve figured out how to manage themselves out of electricity.
  • One of the largest public-private “partnership” organizations, which was established to help improve infrastructure protection and address cyber crime, has had to cancel its annual conference. Not enough interest and/or support from the membership. Even as terrorists become more at home online and cyber crime moves from kids to capos, both the potential victims and those charged with fighting these threats can’t muster the interest or the resources to join forces to combat them.
All of these and countless other tales of institutional woe in our national security system can be traced to bad management. Those who share this view and have first-hand experience are loathe to call it “leadership” because leaders would have long since found a way out of the mess our hard- and soft-power institutions find themselves in. People who were on the job in national-security positions before 9/11 will readily divulge that nothing substantial has changed in the past five years; they probably log more hours, but the administrivia is as thick as ever and the security, budgetary and procedural morass – not to mention inter-agency in-fighting - is just as bad as it has always been. Those who joined after 9/11 have no frame of reference, but the fact that many are opting to vote with their feet indicates they know a bad thing when they see it.

Timid adjustments labeled “reform” are not going to cut it. The bright lights of intelligence wikis and blogs are blocked out by the shadow of growing bureaucracy. Saying you’re adapting to the information age because you are using computers while still clinging to industrial-age processes is worse than sticking with typewriters and paper. Recycling cold-warriors and the people who got you into this mess in the first place is sending these institutions into a retrograde orbit.

I have waxed and waned about the need to purge current management because it can be dangerous to paint with too broad a brush. However, this latest round of stories about business as usual in our national security apparatus has forced me to cast off any misgivings I might have harbored for throwing out a very small baby in a great volume of tepid, fetid bathwater. We should thank those who have served honorably for their time, energy and sacrifice, but their time is over.

Failure to take rapid and dramatic measures on this front will have implications beyond the staffing and morale levels of given agencies. Absent fundamental changes in policy, procedure, and key personnel, national security institutions will decline in relevance and utility. The best and brightest will opt out of federal service so as to avoid becoming cube-dwelling, ticket-punching automatons. Traitors will be cultivated and exploited, criminals will go unpunished, valuable sources of intelligence will go unexploited, and when the next shooting war starts our ignorance of the threat we face will be so profound that victory in battle may very well be in doubt.


Listed below are links that reference The Other Marshall Plan:

» No Fear from Haft of the Spear
Unlike the national security apparatus, when things go wrong in some places they have no problem doing what is necessary to turn things around. What? National security is not business? True, that. In the case of the latter continuing to [Read More]

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An acquaintance of mine at DIA told me how astounded he was at the state of their technology tools when he first came to the agency in 2002. InteLink was slow and anachronistic. E-mail was far from widely accepted and utilized. Wikis were unheard of. The good news is that more senior officers now recognize that this is a serious problem, and more and more companies are tackling the issue by developing new tools for intelligence analysts. Mine included. The bad news is that change occurs slowly, and as you correctly point out, rapid change is what's called for.

A very diligent post----the question is why do government organizations tolerate mismanagement and poor performance more so than that found in business? Could it be a self-perpetuating affliction of government in general?

One of the interesting facets of this post 9-11 period is that all the necessary security measures were in place prior to 9-11----they just weren’t used! We used to call that, "asleep at the switch." And as you stated, lack of upgraded technology, obtuseness, and perceived competition virtually led to the 9-11 debacle.

As for the two federal organizations not cooperating, the answer is simple; create one organization with departments for national and foreign concerns and having a single management team. The current administration has, in a way, tried that with the creation of an overall intelligence czar, but that’s not going to work because there are still two separate organizations with their own administrators. Competition is good, but not in this case!

One problem related to mismanagement stems from the fact that no one is rewarded for shrinking their budget or size of their organization. If that were a rate-able item come annual performance time you would see bosses clamoring better technology and more streamlined processes. Fast-burners would be the ones that actually solved a given problem and closed out a program. Today “success” is measured in the size of bloat.

You are right that consolidation would also go a long way towards improving things. Off the bat it shrinks the size of the community because duplication becomes obvious and the size of the workforce can no longer be justified. Salary, benefits, cost to lease and/or maintain physical plants, etc. drop sharply. Inter-agency rivalry ceases and shifts to intra-agency rivalry, which is infinitely easier to deal with and costs nothing from a fiscal point of view. With more people under a smaller number of roofs the need for monster tech projects that inevitably fail also drops away.

People are getting it, but they’re still operating at the speed of government (to coin a paraphrase). Sad.

Michael, you write that consolidation of the Intel community would shrink the budgets and size, and eliminate duplication of workforce. Even with this, don't you still need to deal with the conflicting cultures of the combined agencies or organizations? Isn't DHS dealing with these problems now (each of the stovepipe agencies that now comprise DHS had their own cultures and methods of doing business)?

I think that this issue remains to be solved.

In the IC this is a much less significant issue than we see playing out in DHS. I’ll use DHS law enforcement orgs as an example . . .

Agents all go through a basic core training to become federal LEOs and then specialize. Their day-to-day functions are very distinct from one another (e.g. stopping people at the border, seeking and expelling those who slipped through, securing critical infrastructure). The cultures of the discrete organizations are different because the missions are different (we haven't even begun to talk about FEMA, etc.). DHS has taken the Brady Bunch approach; only imagine that Carol and Mike were on their second or third iteration of familial fusion.

In the IC, in particular the all-source world, the jobs are not only functionally the same but so is most of the focus. Two guys who look at Chinese missiles at agency X and agency Y know the same information (by and large); they just answer different questions. Every agency has a different history and slightly different culture but they are all rooted in the same general experiences. There is also a fair amount of cross-pollination (people who have spent time in multiple agencies). Here consolidation would be more like Party of Five.

Nice article, Michael.

Speaking of purges, of the lack thereof, I'm disappointed that the Administration chose to promote Gen Casey after his failure in Iraq.

Sadly, the practice of holding those with ultimate responsibility accountable seems to be limited to ship/sub captains these days.