Saturday, June 22, 2013

How to Stop a Bureaucracy Cold



It seems President Obama has quietly imposed “if you see something, say something” for all departments of the federal government:

Even before a former U.S. intelligence contractor exposed the secret collection of Americans’ phone records, the Obama administration was pressing a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.

Actually, it is more like “if you sense something, say something.”

President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments.

The Peace Corps?  What possible national security issues are involved with the Peace Corps?  Just kidding….

[Government documents] show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.

Criminal charges for failing to report?  Espionage?  For leaking to the media the latest give-away to the agriculture industry?

So why do I suggest this will be a great aid in stopping the bureaucracy cold?

The program could make it easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations of loyal Americans, according to these current and former officials and experts. Some non-intelligence agencies already are urging employees to watch their co-workers for “indicators” that include stress, divorce and financial problems.

Toxic and poisoned work environments.  Fantastic.  Poison is great at killing – in this case, killing bureaucratic action.

Imagine daily life in the worst of all bureaucracies – the federal government.  Pushing paper every day, having no objective means by which to measure success, no concrete ways to demonstrate individual performance, meetings with other bureaucrats all of whom are doing nothing more than you are – waiting for lunch, waiting for the end of the shift, counting the minutes.  Whether or not you accomplish anything at all in your workday is neither here nor there.  All that is truly required in your position is to exist – and even this requirement is questionable.

What a miserable daily existence.

Your only relief might be to vent over a beer with a co-worker – only someone in the same environment might understand the frustration you feel.  You can laugh about the stupid things your boss did, or the ignorance on full display within the recent memo from some unknown deputy-under-secretary-special-assistant of bureaucratic affairs regarding respecting the diversity training of some national or religious minority you never heard of. 

How about attending a week-long training seminar on how to use the latest departmental computer system?  You know the one – the one that hasn’t been implemented yet, replacing the one that was never fully implemented even after seven years of consultant support.

Now your dumb boss – or beer-drinking co-worker – is required to make a judgment on every statement you make:

Even inside an agency, one manager’s disgruntled employee might become another’s threat to national security.

A disgruntled employee.  I guess such is not allowed in the federal government.  Take the Department of Education, for example:

The Department of Education, meanwhile, informs employees that co-workers going through “certain life experiences . . . might turn a trusted user into an insider threat.” Those experiences, the department says in a computer training manual, include “stress, divorce, financial problems” or “frustrations with co-workers or the organization.”

Frustrations with co-workers or the organization!  This is the subject of after-work conversations everywhere – for many, especially in heavy bureaucracies, such conversation is the only pleasure they receive at all from their daily existence.  Now, for federal employees, venting is the stuff of firing at best, and Guantanamo (or worse) at worst.

A Defense Security Service online pamphlet lists a wide range of “reportable” suspicious behaviors, including working outside of normal duty hours.

Now this actually makes sense as suspicious behavior – why would anyone want to spend one minute longer than necessary in such a hell-hole?

What is left for the poor GS-6 pencil pusher, besides waiting for a bump from step 4 to step 5?  Don’t talk to anyone, don’t look at anyone, don’t have a beer with anyone, don’t visit any web sites, be polite and respectful to your boss and peers all the time, agree with every decision, smile all of the time…except when it is not appropriate to smile, look serious all of the time…except when it is not appropriate to look serious.

“The real danger is that you get a bland common denominator working in the government,” warned Ilana Greenstein, a former CIA case officer who says she quit the agency after being falsely accused of being a security risk.

Inherently, there is already a bland common denominator in heavily bureaucratic organizations.  What we will now get is something worse (or better, depending on your point of view): organizations at a complete standstill.

In any reasonably healthy environment, two things are present: 1) the encouragement of open dialogue, including respect for dissenting opinion, and 2) a tolerance for the venting of frustration.  With the first, creativity is unleashed.  With the second, small frustrations don’t grow to become unmitigated explosions.

The federal government bureaucracies were already woefully short on these.

For any who are looking for a covert reason behind the Snowden affair, here is one – a perfect opportunity to put the fear of the devil into every bureaucrat.

I say HOORAY!

2 comments:

  1. Cute. Whistle blowers on whistle blowers.

    Von Mises closes his _Bureaucracy_ with an eloquent rant that ends with these words:

    "... They promise the blessings of the Garden of Eden, but they plan to transform the world into a gigantic post office. Every man but one a subordinate clerk in a bureau. What an alluring utopia! What a noble cause to fight!"



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  2. Simply amazing what the bureaucratic mind can come up with. Interesting article BM.

    ReplyDelete