Monday, November 23, 2009

Less is More...Maybe

One of the major changes post-9/11 was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Part of the motivation for creating this organizational body and its constituent offices and leadership positions was to streamline the communication and response components of the myriad parties that play a role in protecting the territorial United States and its citizens. Many blamed inefficiencies and miscommunication as key components that hampered effective prevention of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Arguably, the US leadership continues to operate in a framework that is not effectively suited to the challenges and threats that face the United States in the 21st Century. Since 9/11, it appears that band-aids are all we have time for—a triage approach with each challenge that arises, rather than taking a careful and long-term approach to transforming some of the institutions that exist to protect the United States. At first glance the Department of Homeland Security seems only to duplicate more of the already existing redundancy in the national security apparatus. However, the motivation for the department’s creation is sound; collectively, our agencies and institutions under the national security umbrella can achieve more together than in isolated existence. But currently, DHS is a resource in the rough.

If institutions develop their own culture, President Obama, as well as any member of the Committee of Homeland Security would be wise to consider how they can shape the culture of this (relatively) new department. Carefully selected leadership is essential for success, and the leaders within DHS need to be fully invested with the power to assess and make suggestions regarding the streamlining of the US national security state. We have the means to prune some of our spending, inefficiencies, and duplicity among agencies, but it requires a willingness to overcome institutional resistance to change.

Or…perhaps instead of working through DHS, each pre-existing institution should be encouraged to innovate to meet new challenges. Transformation can come from within or without, but either way, we must think long-term rather than quick-fix. During the financial crisis – many made arguments that certain financial institutions were “too big to fail.” The US Federal Government is both too important and too big to fail, but it is also at times too big to be effective. Therefore, our national leadership should be asking… “Can less be more?”

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