Thursday, March 30, 2006

Bureaucratic Wars

Passing through Tampa this morning, I came across this disturbing article in the Tampa Tribune. It details bureaucratic infighting, cronyism and back-stabbing within the intelligence directorate of U.S. Central Command, based at Tampa's MacDill AFB. According to the article, two senior civilian leaders within the intel directorate (also known as the J-2) used their authority to promote favorites and impede the careers of personnel who ran afoul of them. One of the civilian managers was recently targeted by an Army investigation, which concluded that he should be demoted or fired, but he remains on the job. The other civilian--deputy director of J-2 operations--is also being investigated, but he too, remains on the payroll.

A caveat: while I've participated in various conferences at MacDill and worked with members of the J-2 staff on a recurring basis, I have never been part of CENTCOM's intel staff, and my knowledge of its inner-workings are limited at best. But such occurences are not unusual within the intel bureaucracy, where senior civilians can amass tremendous power. As the Tribune article points out, civilians are supposed to be the "corporate knowledge" for a military organization. Commanders--such as the Brigadier General who is CENTCOM's top intel officer--come and go, but civilians stay forever. In that environment, it becomes easy for them to build powerbases, network, and create their own empires within the bureaucracy. By the time they reach a senior rank (GG-14 and above), they are often the powers behind the throne; efforts to improve or reform the organization often live or die through their support (or lack thereof).

This seems completely alien to anyone in the corporate world, where even CEOs can be fired for poor performance or malfeasence. But the civil service ranks are a different matter entirely. Getting rid of a senior bureaucrat is a difficult, time-consuming task. Improper conduct (except for criminal behavior) must be carefully documented, and with the grievance and appeals process, it can take years to dismiss an upper-level senior servant. Understanding that, many commanders prefer to work around problematic civilians within their ranks, leaving that "problem" for their successors. As the Tribune points out, the CENTCOM J-2 is pre-occupied with the on-going conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he apparently entrusted day-to-day administrative and operational management chores to his civilian leaders. And some, apparently, used their power to punish subordinates unfairly.

The CENTCOM story provides yet another reason for rapid implementation of the National Security Personnel System (NSPS), Don Rumsfeld's effort to reform the DOD's civilian personnel system. Under NSPS, the military's civilian employees would be compensated and promoted based on their performance; factors such as length of service and time in grade would be less important, allowing DOD to find--and reward--civil servants who are doing their jobs and have earned a promotion. Predictably, various government employee unions are fighting NSPS, and a federal judge recently issued a ruling that will delay its introduction. One Pentagon personnel officer told me that NSPS won't be widely implemented until at least 2008--if it even survives.

In the meantime, senior civlians will continue to build their empires, and manipulate the system for personal gain. Believe me, this problem is not limited to CENTCOM's J-2 directorate. We can only wonder how much information isn't getting out because some bureaucrat decides it won't be helpful to his/her career. Maybe that's why the Saddam documents were gathering dust in some archive until Stephen Hayes and other conservative journalists began asking questions.

1 comment:

blert said...

Nailed it, you have.