Posner, Kling Cynical About Government Reorganizations

Michael Giberson

At EconLog, Arnold Kling challenges James Pinkerton’s push for reorganization of the federal government into five super-departments. Kling cites a former colleague of his as saying, “When they don’t know what to do, they re-org.”

Kling writes:

A re-organization like the [proposed] plan would create all sorts of uncertainty about where people fit in relative to the hierarchy. Middle managers would spend years jockeying for position, causing effectiveness to suffer. I am convinced that is what happened to the departments that were consolidated into Homeland Security.

According to the Washington Post, Richard Posner severely criticized reform of U.S. intelligence services on somewhat similar grounds and in much greater detail in a speech at an off-site conference of the CIA’s office of general counsel.

In Posner’s analysis, the director of national intelligence (DNI), created by Congress to be the president’s top intelligence adviser, was given too much to do. DNI John D. Negroponte oversees the CIA and 15 other intelligence agencies, including those at the Pentagon. Negroponte’s staff, which has grown to about 1,000, “has become a new bureaucracy layered on top of the intelligence community,” Posner said.

In his speech, a revised version of which is available from the Washington Post website, Posner cites an article in the New York Times that echos the point Kling made:

“[A] year after the sweeping government reorganization [of intelligence] began, the [intelligence] agencies…remain troubled by high-level turnover, overlapping responsibilities and bureaucratic rivalry,” and that the reorganization has “bloated the bureaucracy, adding boxes to the government organization chart without producing clearly defined roles.”

A little bureaucratic rivalry can be a good thing, if the result is that the more effective bureau wins. Reorganization can also help shake an agency out of established patterns of thought and action and inject a little dynamism. Reorganization is a way to execute an end run around the status quo. But to succeed, reorganization has got to be more than just political cover for past mistakes. The creation of Homeland Security and the reorganization of the intelligence service seem born of the politician’s impulse to “look busy,” so as not to be to blame.

One thought on “Posner, Kling Cynical About Government Reorganizations

  1. This issue would be far easier to discuss if federal government first returned to performing only those functions enumerated in the Constitution. That process alone should achieve the goal of a government of five departments without growing them into bloated super-departments. Kinda’ like a twofer!

    The first non-enumerated power on my list for elimination is wealth transfer.

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